The power of youth to make a difference

Santosh Shah, founder and president of Today’s Youth Asia, talks about working with and for young people to create social change.

At 33, I am rather hesitant to put myself in the league of youth. However, the concerns of young people are very close to my heart. I come from a country that witnessed nearly 10 years of civil war, with many young people caught up in the conflict.

In recent years, about one-third of Nepalis, mostly young people, have left for jobs elsewhere. Their remittances have become a strong source of revenue for Nepal’s economy. To make sustainable progress, however, Nepal has to create employment for young people in productive sectors.

The stability and security of a decent home enables an individual to actively contribute to the economy and society. A decent home opens the door to improved health, greater security for women and children and better performance in school and at work.

Knowing the facts is not enough. We need to spread the word and engage others, particularly young people, in the cause of decent housing. I was excited to walk the talk when Habitat for Humanity Nepal invited me to be a Youth Ambassador for Habitat Youth BUILD 2014.

My fellow ambassadors were journalist Prem Baniya, comedian/actor Sitaram Kattel, actress Reecha Sharma and rapper/hip-hop singer Niranaya Shrestha. The five of us traveled to three major locations in Kathmandu valley to call on thousands of young people and local communities to do their part for adequate housing.

Having seen the energy and passion of the youth participants during Habitat Youth BUILD, I am convinced that young people can play a bigger role in eliminating poverty housing. I believe in the power of youth to make a difference because of my own experience.

To ease the financial burden on my parents, who were farmers, I started writing for government-owned newspapers at the age of 13 to pay for my school fees. Initially, I sent in unsolicited articles, and I was later given assignments by editors. For my first published article, I was paid US$3. Since then, I have been involved with media and youth issues. Now, 20 years later, I am launching a foundation in my name that will focus on social development in Nepal, working with young people to improve their education and employment.

Oscar Wilde said that “youth is wasted on the young,” but I beg to differ. Many of the Nepalese who took part in Habitat Youth BUILD were repeat participants. Youthful zeal can be developed into wisdom and strength, essential traits for leaders who want to ensure that everyone has a decent place to live.

This is my wish for our young people as we mark International Youth Day. What is yours?

— Santosh Shah, founder and president of Today’s Youth Asia, owner and managing director of South Asia Communications, and producer and anchor of PowerTalks, Nepal’s first talk show in English