At a time when most of the youth are on social media, there are three siblings in Trashigang, who have come to almost resent the medium, not so much because of the hype that is the social media, but because they are more often then not portrayed as victims.
They are orphans and live in a make shift hut. When it rains, their kitchen roof leakes. The door is made of a sheet of bitumen barrel. As kidu recipients, they claim to be doing well. As youth, they want to be left alone.
They get visitors who give them clothes and groceries. College students have dropped by their home almost four times to make documentaries on them. When Kuensel met them recently, they shared their concerns of being looked down by the community and their friends in school. Visitors taking pictures of them with their gifts have made the siblings wonder if the help they receive is genuine or if it is more about showing off the help and the helped on social media.
With a generation growing up on social media and more staying online than ever, netizens sharing their daily activities have become a norm. Yet, the concerns raised by these siblings are real. They are likely to perceive outsiders being insensitive if all they see and hear about themselves and their lives are about people helping them. They are not wrong to believe that their life is more than a post on social media.
But we understand that most volunteers who help them and those like them are altruistic. And documenting such acts through photographs has become a requirement, especially when donors are involved. Perhaps, the need to post it on social media needs some reflection because it involves minors. As youth, it matters how they are perceived both by the community and peers. May be more than how they see themselves.
May be it also means that we need to change our perception about the youth. The Bhutanese society has constructed a narrative of its youth as those who do drugs and are unemployed. But we rarely ask if the issue of drugs and unemployment are as much a construction, let alone a failure. The pressure on young minds to get employed was evident at the recent graduates’ orientation programme, when they questioned policy makers on the requirement of experience and high academic performance. The news about overseas employment agencies exploiting jobseekers indicates the desperation our youth are going through.
We are seeing a surge in initiatives being taken to engage youth and help those in need. It’s a matter of perspectives but this development could also be a manifestation of social decay. It suggests that there are gaps to be filled to prevent some sections of the society from falling through the cracks. But when compassion overwhelms, as it appears to have for the siblings, it is worrying. We do not want our youth, orphans or otherwise to grow up believing that they are victims of social or economic malice. They need support and respect when we are only willing to offer them help.
Where we do begin to change this norm?