Students at a HLDRC study centre at the Manja Tea Garden, Darjeeling district, celebrate World Environment Day. Photo: HLDRC.

The youth is the hope of the future. We envision a world where our dreams can be realized to create a more just society. We work hard to achieve our goals, yet, there are barriers that stand in our way – especially if you are poor and live in the Global South.

I live in India where COVID-19 has affected millions of people: over 31 million confirmed cases and 413,000 deaths as of mid-July. COVID-19 is more than a health issue; it is also an economic and cultural one.

When the second wave hit India last April, the government shut down schools and banned student gatherings. I have seen how these restrictions disproportionately affected the poor. Online learning is not an option for students in the tea gardens because they have no access to computers or smart phones. The government tried to address the issue by cancelling exams and moving everyone up the next grade. However, this only created a dearth of knowledge among youth.

Quality education was already inaccessible for poor people before COVID-19. Tuition fees are just one barrier. Dalits and Adivasis, the most marginalized people in the country, have the right to subsidized education. However, most are unable to go to school because they do not possess valid caste certificates, a prerequisite for accessing their rights. In 2018, 17% of youth in India dropped out before finishing secondary school. Most end up working because they need to support their families.

It is easy to lose hope, yet we persevere. With the help of organizations like Human Life Development and Research Centre (HLDRC), poor and marginalized youth can build a bright future for themselves and their communities. HLDRC provides vocational training in computer hardware, sewing, retail management and nursing and help with employment through a placement program.

HLDRC also conducts awareness and information programs. They teach us about caste certificates and how to apply for them. Their workshops also provide opportunities for youth to develop self-confidence, critical thinking and leadership skills. I participated in a right to food campaign and learned that working collectively, we are more empowered; those in power are more likely to listen to our united voice!

The challenge for youth now is to overcome roadblocks to education due to COVID-19. HLDRC continues to help. While schools remain closed, it has opened up study centres to tutor 1,000 students who have no access to online learning. However, this is not enough.

The government and private sector must address the pandemic more effectively. They must also invest resources into making education accessible for everyone. This includes offering incentives to enable poor youth to go back to school again; enacting policies that help compensate for the loss of education during the pandemic; and lifting the ban on student gatherings to allow us to come together with one voice.

Education is key not only for the development of an individual but for building a nation.



  • Nidhi Chick Baraik

    Nidhi Chick Baraik belongs to a scheduled tribe and tea garden family in Darjeeling, India. She is currently pursuing a master’s degree in North Bengal University.

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