Comment & analysis

Supporting youth as peace-builders and change-makers in Nepal

8 February 2016 LaChelle Amos

In Nepal young people are often labelled ‘trouble-makers’ but, says LaChelle Amos, they have also shown they can play a crucial role in conflict prevention, peacebuilding, and local development.

According to the 2011 census, youth (defined as those aged 16-40 in Nepal’s National Youth Policy) make up over 40% of Nepal’s population. At a challenging time when protests have crippled Nepal’s economy just months after a debilitating earthquake, it is important to examine the crucial positive role that youth – who are too often seen as ‘trouble-makers’ – can play within their communities.

Trust in communities has been severely tested over the course of 2015, particularly as protests enveloped much of the Terai (southern plains bordering India) in reaction to select articles of the newly promulgated constitution. These articles primarily concerned provincial delineation, proportional representation, electoral constituency, and citizenship, as well as the hastened pace of promulgation. Despite these challenges, youth involved in Saferworld’s “Community Initiatives for Common Understanding” (CICU) project, have illustrated exactly how crucial youth are to constructive local conflict mitigation and management, as well as positive local governance and development.

When the project began in June 2013, those involved probably did not anticipate exactly how much Nepal’s context would shift less than two years later. Nor did they probably imagine the contribution, and subsequent impact, that CICU’s 15 youth groups and 15 Reconciliation and Development Forums (RDFs) would have in their communities throughout Sunsari, Banke, Bardiya, Surkhet, and Kailali. 

Youth at risk of conflict, or potentially engaging in conflict, are a primary focus of the CICU project, as they hold amazing potential to bring about positive change in their communities if their energies are constructively channelled. For this reason inclusive youth groups have been formed in all 15 CICU Village Development Committees (VDCs) to identify, prioritise, and programmatically address the local issues affecting youth, so they can help build social harmony and lasting peace in their communities and districts more broadly. Youth are also members of CICU’s RDFs, which have similar overall objectives to the youth groups but prioritise community concerns more broadly (not just those that most impact youth).  The prioritised issues are community-specific but commonly include issues related to gender-based violence, drug abuse, and natural resource distribution/use. In some communities political or religious conflicts and the generation gap have been prioritised.  The RDFs and youth groups address these issues through awareness-raising programmes, street dramas, mass rallies, radio programmes, dialogues, and trainings, among other methods.

In Phulwari VDC, Kailali district, youth took the initiative to tackle the longstanding conflict between communities over the use of forest resources. The conflict had reached a point where communities were resorting to violence over the issue. The youth group initiated several one-on-one meetings with community members and concerned local stakeholders before facilitating a final group meeting, during which they were able to bring about a resolution to the conflict. Since that meeting the community has managed its resource use and distribution peacefully.

The project has also changed individuals’ lives. In Bharaul VDC, Sunsari district, a young man with a history of drug abuse, and recently returned from working abroad, was able to transform his life with the support and opportunities provided by the local youth group. He now runs a small veterinary shop in the local market and is happily married with a child.

The gender equality and social inclusion reflected in each group’s composition has helped to gain trust between all parts of local communities. After witnessing how inclusive and productive the RDF is, the District Development Committee office of Sunsari initiated a reformation of its Ward Citizen Forum – a local  governance mechanism for public feedback– to ensure that the group is more inclusive and therefore more accurately reflects community concerns and issues. The CICU groups’ structure also empowers young women to hold decision-making leadership positions and actively participate in constructive public fora. 

Even at the peak of the protests in the Mid-Western and Far-Western Terai, RDF and youth group members did not engage in any violent protests.  Constructively focusing their efforts, they were able to collaborate with fellow community members, civil society, local authorities, security forces, and local political party leaders to peacefully carry out social harmony programmes attended by up to 1,000 community members. They also started to rebuild the local-level trust broken by violent protests and political agitation.  In one instance in Sunsari, due to strong coordination and clear messaging, the protestors momentarily halted their protest to allow community members to safely cross the highway to attend the cultural programme on the other side.

Despite continued unrest and political uncertainty in the Terai, youth group members in all five districts participated in VDC Mock Council sessions in November and December 2015, facilitated by their respective District Development Committee Officer. These sessions aimed to orient the youth on the 14-step planning process so that they could constructively and successfully engage in the process, securing VDC block grant funding for some of their action plan activities, and strengthening their relationships with officials.

These are just a few examples from Saferworld’s CICU project that illustrate the potential for youth – with the appropriate support, guidance, and resources – to prevent (potential) conflict and positively foster and contribute to long-term peace and local development in their communities.

The USAID Conflict Mitigation and Management-funded CICU project is implemented by Saferworld in partnership with Informal Sector Service Centre (INSEC) and Child Workers in Nepal Concerned Centre (CWIN). The project began in June 2013.

LaChelle Amos is Saferworld’s Nepal country manager.

“Youth at risk of conflict, or potentially engaging in conflict, are a primary focus of [this] project, as they hold amazing potential to bring about positive change in their communities if their energies are constructively channelled.”

LaChelle Amos