I once read somewhere that to be truly content with life, one needs to build his or her own ecosystem of communities. Such community could be with just one person – perhaps a close sibling, a significant other, or a best friend with whom you share a special connection. It could also be multiple communities with multiple peoples. In my case, I have a community with my close cousins, another with my friends in Seattle, and one with my former students and teaching staff.
For some of our young people, the Bhutanese Youth Cooperative (BYC) is one such community.
Established in March 2020, the BYC is a grassroots effort that aims to empower Bhutanese youths and promote positive social change. Last year, the BYC organized its first project, a virtual career forum that featured Bhutanese professionals in the fields of technology, engineering, healthcare, social science, business, and trade school.
Asked why she joined, Hrishika, one of the mentees, said, “I joined the BYC because I never grew up in a Nepali community, and always was a bit further away. This led me to distance myself from my identity and culture. At my university, I am probably the only Nepali student, which made me stand out in a good way. I have now realized that for me to grow and progress, I’d have to embrace my identity.”
It was during these forums that the founders realized that the youths wanted more than just conversations around education and careers.
“Our youths are resourceful and know how to advocate for themselves,” said Susanna Pradhan, one of the founding members. “What they desire is a sense of community and connectedness with people that they can relate to.”
With this realization, the BYC shifted its focus into networking and relationship building and piloted its mentorship program in July of last year. It was a program that had an immediate impact on Bhadra, a mentee.
“I was for once able to connect with people that came from a similar background as myself. While this might be a small thing, being able to have a mentor that looked like me really helped me get through my first semester in college. I could very much relate to her and build a unique connection which I have never been able to form with any of my other mentors in the past,” said Bhadra.
In fact, it’s not a small thing. The need for connection and belonging is a critical step to self-actualization in Maslov’s Hierarchy of Needs. When this human psychological need is not met, mental health and suicide can afflict a community. Abiskar Chettri, one of the founders, observed this when working on a suicide prevention and intervention project at Harvard School of Public Health.
“While I had been a part of the Bhutanese community all my life, working on this project was my first direct exposure to the issues plaguing the resettled refugee community,” said Abishkar Chhetri.
In Pramila Nepal, Prakiti Rai, Upendra Kuikel, Ghanashyam Gautam, and Susanna Pradhan, Abishkar found like-minded advocates who shared a collective concern:
The youth in our community face many ongoing challenges, including but not limited to low graduation rates, financial burdens, and family responsibilities. Since our diaspora is such a newly formed refugee community in the US, our community lacks in providing consistent exposure, resources, and opportunity to our youth. Having experienced these challenges ourselves, we felt strongly about creating a good support system and providing guidance and resources for the young individuals within our community.
Hence, the birth of the Bhutanese Youth Cooperative.
Today, the BYC continues to organize events around education and scholarship, host speaker series and game nights, and arrange retreats, conferences, and webinars. In fact, the pilot mentorship program was so successful the team is launching a full-fledged, nation-wide e-mentorship program this summer, for which application for mentors and mentees is now open.
As far as the future of BYC is concerned, one of the long-term goals is to apply for a 501(c)3 non-profit designation and establish it as a prominent organization for our youths.
Very rarely do non-profit start-ups succeed without the backing of the communities they serve. In the case of the BYC, the signs are positive and the odds incredibly good. More importantly, our community desperately needs this project to succeed, and we all have an obligation to do our part in making it happen.
The author is the Managing Editor of this news site.