Choki Wangmo | Tsirang

A school counsellor, Rinzin Wangmo, observed prominent challenges of substance abuse, bullying, and neglect among youths in Phuentsholing since she accidentally became Young Volunteers In Action (Y-VIA) coordinator last year.

She recently completed a five-day UPSHIFT training in Gelephu.

Y-VIA is an active network of young people empowered and involved in community service under the Bhutan Youth Development Fund (YDF). First initiated in 2003 with about 30 members, the network today has more than 7,000 members in 20 dzongkhags.

The 27-year-old is hopeful the problem-solving skills she learned at the training would better equip her to address some of the challenges facing young people in one of the busiest towns in the country.

“Youth in the country get support but with many stakeholders, interventions get delayed,” she said.

For example, a young person abusing substances does not get timely interventions as it takes a long time to get through the bureaucracy to give a young person the required support. “There is lack of ownership among stakeholders,” she added.

Tenzin Jamtsho is one of the 40 participants in the UPSHIFT training.

He was a Y-VIA member since his college days. A teacher in one of the schools in Haa, the 27-year-old is also the cluster coordinator of Y-VIA in the dzongkhag.  There are 32 members in the cluster.

They carried out social services such as waste management, tree plantation, and walk-the-talk programmes in the dzongkhag last year.

He said that the training had helped him think and act a step ahead. “I have learnt problem-solving skills, proper planning, and implementation.”

“The training empowers youth and adolescents with social innovation and social entrepreneurship by identifying challenges in their communities and creating entrepreneurial solutions to address them,” he said.

UPSHIFT is designed to build transferable skills and create opportunity, with a focus on the most disadvantaged young people.

In the future, he plans to know the community better and work with them.

Being a Y-VIA member, he said, instilled in him not only volunteerism toward the communities but also building self-discipline, skills development, and altruism.

He said that the youth in the country have support from the highest authority but many are swayed and losing interest in bettering themselves. He said that young people no more have an interest in educating themselves but are more focused on going abroad.

“Young people do not like to read or write Dzongkha,” said the language teacher.

To address such social issues, Tenzin Jamtsho said there is a need for collective action. Care at home and proper parenting, for example, could play a crucial role.

Globally, more than 200 million adolescents are out of school; global youth unemployment is 13 percent. The common challenges for youth are a lack of opportunity and systems that fail to provide skills for work and for life, according to UNICEF.

Bhutan has more than 45 percent of its population below the age of 24 years. The country’s youth unemployment rate is 20.9 percent.

The coordinators of the training are expected to roll out the UPSHIFT workshop to the other Y-VIA members in their dzongkhags.

The training was a collaboration between UNICEF Bhutan and the YDF.