Connor Moylett volunteered with Restless on the International Citizen Service (ICS) programme in Nepal earlier this year. It inspired him to switch from studying music technology to international development. In this post he reflects on a youth-led initiative to improve waste management that he was a part of on his placement.

Completed two years ago, the BP highway has brought new prosperity to the village of Khalte. Busloads of tourists and travellers now stop to eat lunch and spend money in the shops and cafes, providing employment for many of the locals who for generations have relied solely on agriculture.

However, as well as money the increased custom has brought with it a huge rise in the amount of waste. Until recently very few of the local businesses used dustbins and those who did were often throwing their contents out into the street or valley below. Bottles and other rubbish had begun to litter the area and the valley behind the main strip of cafes had started to fill with plastic, turning the once beautiful riverbed into an eyesore.

Not long after arriving in our ICS placement, our team were invited to join a clean-up campaign. Along with large sections of the community, we walked from one end of Khalte to the other gathering rubbish and burning it in huge piles. From the number of people involved it was clear that there was widespread concern for the village environment. However, the next day the same people who had been choking back plastic fumes from the fires were again throwing their rubbish on the ground.

Seventeen-year-old youth club vice-president Jallak Thapa was one of the people leading the clean up. He, along with other young people in Khalte, was frustrated at the lack of co-ordination and continuity in the village’s approach to waste management:

“Its obvious that there is a problem. There is 100% a problem and I think that it is due to a lack of awareness and education amongst the café owners”.

Hoping to do something about this we met with the youth club and were amazed by their passion for the local environment. Ideas came flying out and it wasn’t long before we had put together a plan for what we hoped would be a new, sustainable approach to waste management – Keep Khalte Clean.

These ideas included the establishment of a dedicated, local government backed waste management committee made up of shop owners, community leaders and, vitally, young people. Through the committee we hoped to present each shop and café owner with an agreement that they would sign and display in their shop committing them to responsible and community-friendly disposal of waste. There would be a fine system for those repeatedly breaching the terms of the agreement as well as the potential for rewards or recognition of improvement.

We set up a meeting with the local government heads and, together with members of the youth club, presented our plan. They were very receptive and after much enthusiastic discussion called a second larger meeting to which all local business-owners were invited.

The speed at which the community mobilized was incredible. Our Restless team happily took a back seat as the committee was formed and excitedly took ownership of the project. Each shop and restaurant owner would be a member by default with a small executive committee above them. In line with our plan there were two seats on the committee for members of the youth club, which were taken by Jallak and his friend Mohan. Amongst much clapping and cheering it was decided that the committee would meet as early as the next day.

The project was officially launched a week later with a clean up and rally across Khalte. Members of the committee together with the youth club and kids from the local school marched across the village carrying placards presenting the agreements and cleaning up rubbish along the way. We were immensely proud to see that the next day many of these agreements had been laminated and pasted in pride of place above the counters of Khalte.

The difference has been immediately noticeable with a huge increase in the use of bins and less litter around the road area. Though there is still work to do, there has been an undoubted shift in attitudes as people respond to encouragement from the newly founded committee. Jallak is confident about the future of Khalte’s environment:

“I think it’s already started to make a change…the agreements and the committee are having a real impact, now that the community has started mobilizing I think the effort will be sustained for many years”.

Young people initiated this scheme and we were excited to see that they would continue to drive it forward. As in much of the world, Nepalese young people are too-often sidelined when it comes to governance and decision-making. With Keep Khalte Clean we had a direct example of youths being placed at the centre of both these things. From their position on the committee and Jallak and Mohan will gain invaluable insights into the workings of local government as well as using their passion and fresh perspective to change Khalte for the better.

Reflecting on Restless’ involvement Jallak said:

“I’m grateful to this cycle of volunteers, after you guys came the youth started to be involved”.

What do you think?

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