Sonam, 16, from Zhemgang, couldn’t continue her education after she completed Class X from one of the schools in Phuentsholing in 2017. Financial burden put her hopes of studying to an abrupt stop.

Today, Sonam stays at Chinese Lane in Jaigaon with her sister. She has taken a computer course and regularly volunteers at Phuentsholing Youth Centre (PYC).

“I want to at least complete Class XII,” she said. “But if I get a job I will work.”

Chances of getting a job are also bleak due to her age. But help is underway with the capacity building workshop for out-of-school adolescents and youth.

Sonam is one of the 29 participants attending the five-day workshop at PYC, which started on June 4.

The participants are called NEETs – Not in Education, Employment or Training.

The training is organised by the Youth Center Division (YCD) of the education ministry with support from the thromde administration, and the UNICEF.

Officials say its primary objective is to empower out-of-school adolescents and youth to harness opportunities to reach their full potential.

At the training, the participants meet and interact with focal points from various agencies such as labour ministry, local businesses, and training institutes. They are oriented with life skills, communication and networking skills and youth issues in the community.

They will also be connected with potential employers through targeted sessions on entrepreneurship, vocational and employment schemes.

PYC manager, Karma Chogyal, said the aim is to reach out to the most vulnerable adolescents and youth and to understand their needs.

“We want to allow these adolescents and youth to connect with themselves and to share information and enable relevant agencies to increase their engagement with these adolescents and youth,” he said.

He also said the youth centres across the country embarked on a youth mapping exercise in their communities this year. “Surveys were conducted to find out the population of youth in the community and to reach out to school dropouts and vulnerable adolescents and youth.”

Phuentsholing youth centre conducted its youth community mapping survey exercise in March with support from UNICEF and the Phuentsholing thromde.

Twelve youth volunteers and three youth centre officials conducted the survey.

The sample for youth mapping exercise covered five youth hotspots in core areas in Phuentsholing, including Jaigaon, where many Bhutanese youth live.

About 250 youth were identified as NEETs and they would all be trained.

A participant, Kinley Lhendup, 24, a Class X dropout of 2010, said he is still looking for a job.

“This training is really helpful,” he said, adding that it is grooming him in skill development and business ideas. “I even have some business ideas now.”

Sangay Thinley, 23, another Class X dropout of 2015, said he had worked at a construction site and a hotel.

A university graduate at the programme, Chundu Tshering, 30, said the training taught him some interview skills.

“Body language is important,” he said. “I have to be slow while speaking and speak with clarity.”

Although Chundu Tshering has worked as a volunteer, he could not get a permanent job. “I attended several interviews but I wasn’t lucky,” he said. “This training is handy.”

Meanwhile, similar trainings will be conducted in other youth centres across the country. There are 11 youth centres.

Chief of YCD from department of youth and sports, Rinzin Wangmo, said they hope to not only enhance the soft skills of the youth but link them with prospective training institutions, employers and financial institutions so that they are able to get enrolled in training institutions, find employment and start businesses of their own.

“Adolescents and youth cut across numerous sectors hence it is imperative that agencies working for and with youth collaborate and support each other,” she said.

PYC officials said they would keep track of the NEET after the training.

In a press release, the representative of UNICEF Bhutan, Rudolf Schwenk, said adolescence is recognised as a “second window of opportunity” to build on and increase the gains achieved during the first decade of a child’s life (0-10 years).

“I believe that it is critical to listen and respond to the voices of young people. They need support to optimally develop their potential and transition successfully to adult roles and responsibilities,” he said. “Investing in adolescents is also critical from a demographic, economic and social development perspective.”

Rajesh Rai | Phuentsholing