by Jason Schwartzman, ChildFund Team Leader for Child & Youth Involvement
I eventually come around to asking my core question, “If you and a group of your friends had to choose one issue that is the greatest challenge to youth in this area, what would you choose?”
It’s interesting because there is wide consensus — it’s not too difficult for them to come to an agreement. For young women, its migration to find work, and for young men, the issue of migration is there, but they focus more on alcoholism. Young women in rural villages have a profound sense of vulnerability that comes with migrating to the major towns and cities. Without the support of their extended family, friends and community, the chances of abuse are high. And even for those who don’t migrate and stay at home, many bear the additional burden of maintaining the household in the absence of an older sibling or parent who has left. More responsibilities at home often pull them out of school, narrowing the choices and options they have in their lives. This is what they talk about.
While young men talk about the risks of migrating for work, and they have heard all the horror stories about exploitation, such as being penniless and in a strange city or being arrested by the police for vagrancy — they tell these stories to me — their feeling of vulnerability after leaving home is not as profound as with young women.
Instead, alcoholism is the issue top of mind for these young men. Drinking is a widespread problem in their community as is the social violence that often comes with it. When fathers and mothers are drunk, their children find themselves struggling to cope with a mix of emotions and fears. They’re also deeply concerned about their peers who drink too much. Young people are making choices, sometimes passively and sometimes actively, but they are acutely aware that these choices are not leaving them in a good place.
They candidly talk about feeling unconfident because they have not taken advantage of education, and now they feel ill prepared to earn a livelihood.
I thank them for their frankness. They ask to sing a song to close our meeting. They sing three.