By Neha Basnet
“Be the CHANGE you wish to see in the world” – Gandhi
April 25: 7.8-magnitude earthquake devastated the whole of Nepal. The scene was heart-rending and terrifying: buildings started getting collapsed and people ran to save their loved one’s lives. The continuous aftershocks traumatized the people even more. After a week of sleepless and torturous days and nights, people (whose homes were not demolished or even cracked) slowly started to settle in. But then, once again an aftershock of 7.3- magnitude shook the country. It was even hard to get your imagination together on what exactly was going on. Thousands of lives were lost, countless numbers of houses were demolished; it was a catastrophe.
I could share a lot about my own experience of the two earthquakes and countless number of terrifying aftershocks, getting sick after not being able to use clean toilets and eat proper meals, running out of medications. I suppose everyone has their own story of life and pain to tell.
Among all the stories, the story of youth getting together and reaching out to people with relief materials in each and every devastated part of Nepal has been the most inspiring story. From groups of students to youth-led NGO staff and volunteers, from the international students to Nepalese studying and living abroad, the youth were at the center of relief activities. And the youth were the ones who reacted positively to this situation. However, this was enabled by the immense possibilities of the social media.
After following hundreds of tweets, more than ten YouTube videos and hundreds of blog posts, articles, personal messages and updates, requests for volunteers, relief materials, funding, re-posts on Facebook, it was clear that social media played a central role is mobilizing youth with relief materials where it was desperately needed. It was not only limited to sending out information and getting relief work to the people in need, tweets based on key-words were used, special hashtags were made to get the right information and updates. A spike in online nationalist and humanitarian conversations often preceded major events on the ground, such as “Ride for the Cause!!!”, “Remembering the lost sculptures of Kathmandu”, and “NIP Photography Workshop” leading to relief work and crowd-funding. Further, mapping of the devastated villages, spread of innovative ideas to rebuild the temporary houses, alert messages related to sanitations, aqua tabs, availability of free clean water to stem epidemics were made possible with the availability of online tools.
This is definitely the first time we actually have evidence that youth of Nepal were really on the move for a positive change. They played and have been playing a very critical role in protecting, rehabilitating, and rebuilding the lives of many. Despite the absence of proper infrastructure, particularly road and transport networks, which further got destroyed due to quake, commitment to reach the quake affected people continued.
During the on-going relief work, there were concerns and criticisms among funders and common people about youth organizations and individuals competing with each other about who will first reach the affected villages. This behavior of the youth revolves around two mainstays: the irresistible allure of social media and the lure of becoming a hero. It stirred up a furor among social media users within Nepal as well as those living abroad.
“The revolving Government of Nepal took very long time to respond to the needs of the affected people,” says Dipesh Khadgi, a young volunteer working in Gorkha with a Team of Danish philanthropist. “Even the distributions from various NGOs were disorganized.”
Foresee better future?
Now everyone from media to analyst to researchers are evaluating whether we will be able to see the same kind of participation, commitment, and realization among the Nepali youth. With increasing focus on youth unemployment and poor governance in Nepal, does the rise of youth portend a better future for Nepal? If these passionate youth initiate collaboration and promotion of innovative ideas in governance and public services, then we definitely foresee a promising tomorrow.
Neha Basnet is a graduate from the International Institute of Social Studies at Erasmus University, The Netherlands. She writes about development, child rights, and youth.
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