On any given day, the departure terminal in Kathmandu’s Tribhuwan International Airport fills with crowds of young Nepalese leaving the country to find better economic opportunities elsewhere. There is little wonder why: in 2008, Nepal’s unemployment rate was estimated at 46 percent. Each year, approximately 300,000 youth leave the country to become migrant laborers abroad, draining the country of some its healthiest, most productive workers.
Over the past five years, however, a USAID project has helped tens of thousands of youth not only find skills-based work at home but also become employers themselves. USAID’s Education for Income Generation (EIG) project, developed in close coordination with the Government of Nepal and many local partners, began in 2008 just as Nepal was emerging from the shadows of its longstanding political conflict. The program was designed to help marginalized communities, especially in western Nepal, fully participate in the country’s economy and society.
Today 74,000 disadvantaged youth who were trained in entrepreneurial literacy, vocational skills, and agricultural productivity and enterprises are reaping benefits, with higher incomes, raised living standards, and substantially increased food security.
The EIG program ends this week, but its investment in furthering opportunities for disadvantaged communities will continue to pay off. Many of the successful approaches and lessons learned developed through this project are continuing under the U.S. Government’s Feed the Future (FtF) activities and other related programs, and most of EIG’s local partners are continuing with follow-on work under FtF.
In agriculture alone, 54,000 beneficiaries have been able to grow and earn more through diverse, high-value crops. All in all, these beneficiaries, of whom 82 percent are women, have seen their incomes grow by about 250 percent. In Karnali, a notoriously food-insecure district, an estimated 9,000 youth have directly benefited from improved food security.
The program, with the help of its partners, designed its vocational skills trainings after studying the market’s needs. As a result, more than 11,000 youth were trained in skills ranging from masonry to mechanics, carpentry to industrial wiring, mobile and air conditioner repair, and more. Within six months, about 80 percent of the beneficiaries were either employed or had managed to establish businesses in which they had employees of their own.
In the region’s disadvantaged Dalit community, EIG offered 421 scholarships for professional degree certificates in teaching and nursing, which empowered these beneficiaries to serve as role models in their communities. And in four districts across the mid-western region of Nepal, the program established 80 distillation units to process non-timber forest products like lemongrass and citronella into essential oils. The raw materials are largely grown and harvested by women’s groups and, with EIG’s help, these products are now sold in the export market.
None of these accomplishments will come to an end, even though EIG does this week. And although young workers continue to fill Nepal’s international airport terminals, the project’s tens of thousands of beneficiaries in western Nepal have shown that Nepalese youth who are willing to work hard can make a life in their own towns and villages, with their families and loved ones …and can contribute to their own country’s future.