How a Learnt Skill can Empower Youth
"The will to win, the desire to succeed, the urge to reach your full potential, these are the things that will unlock the door to personal excellence." - Confucius
What is a a learnt skill?
While growing up, we have often been asked," What's your hobby? What do you do in your free time? What are you learning in the holidays?" These questions had easy answers as we could share that we either painted or played the guitar or wrote stories or were learning photography, etc. which are based on our personal hobbies. For most of us, these just remained hobbies, while a few took there hobbies a step further and converted them into professional careers. However, that's not the story for most of us.
Why is it that these hobbies could not be taken further? Most of you know the answer to this one too. One is society's belief that hobbies cannot be real jobs or an avenue to earn regular income. Academics is seen as more important than hobbies and certain jobs like becoming a doctor, engineer etc. are seen as more lucrative. It could also be our own personal fears of the uncertainty that comes with something that has traditionally not been seen as a job.
However, today the society is beginning to change its views and is opening itself to acknowledging that hobbies can have career prospects. Film-making, photography, blogging, travelling, illustrating, cooking, etc are becoming successful career options. So if you have a childhood passion you don't really need to lose out but you can add purpose to it, fulfill a need, fill a niche and also earn an income from it. Simply put, many of these hobbies have now become important skills and are in demand in the ever expanding world.
For many youth, who live in the hilly terrains of Uttarakhand, learning a skill is difficult and earning a living from it is a far-fetched dream. There is a lack of opportunity to learn skills and even if they learn something, there is difficulty in making it sustainable. If you are one of the lucky ones who got a chance to turn your hobby into a professional skill you could do so because you had the opportunity to learn and specialize in it. It could have been through art or cooking classes, weekend pottery workshops, or just learning through Youtube videos or online courses. The lack of exposure to such opportunities or the understanding that there is a market for these skills and that they too can join this market has limited the development of so many youth. When you ask anyone in the villages here what the biggest challenge in their village is, you will definitely get one response, we don't have "rozgaar" or no opportunities to earn an income.
Mountain Village Foundation, through it's youth empowerment programme, Prarambh is trying to bridge this gap by opening opportunities for new skill learning and development. We believe that teaching skills has the potential to make youth financially independent. One of our projects is based on learning Quilling, which is a form of paper filigree. Several of the youth, through our training workshops, are learning how to make different artefacts with this new skill, like key chains, earrings, decorative ornaments, etc. While learning this new skill, the youth are also beginning to understand how a particular product is marketable while another is not. During the training they understand how a product becomes useful because it fulfills a need. They are now beginning to think like entrepreneurs who now understand how to make their skill truly valuable.
You might wonder why we selected Quilling as one of the skills to learn. The answer is simple. It has a market. Just being passionate about a skill isn't enough, it has to offer something unique or new for it to generate a market and that's how the project idea was born. Quilling was a perfect mix of a unique concept in this area and a form of craft which could be learnt.
An opportunity to learn a skill can do so much for the development of a person. There are many other benefits we have seen when teaching youth a valuable skill. Besides it opening an avenue to earn a livelihood, the youth have developed a strong sense of community, which extends beyond the classes with MVF. They have a sense of accomplishment that boosts their confidence and encourages them to try more and get better at the skill they have learnt. This is evident when they ask us to increase the number of hours of the training or want to take home the quilling material to complete unfinished tasks or ask for feedback consistently. Isn't this magical?
Having worked with some of the youth on our projects, a question we keep asking ourselves is, how do we reach so many others who do not have this opportunity? The job market is evolving and through access to the internet and social media, opportunities are becoming more accessible. There is an urgent need for the education system to grow with the needs of the times and bring to children and youth these opportunities not just as extra-curricular activities but as regular subjects that have the potential to transform their lives. Our work with children through school partnerships is one step we've taken to open the conversation on a skill-centric education. We believe that this has the power to make students' educational experience truly empowering, one that balances their passion with purpose.