Reversing an exodus (Published in Republica)

After I spent a good many years abroad, I was very happy to come back to Nepal and be with my family, friends and relatives. It was one of the single most important decisions I have made so far. One of the most frequently asked question from friends, relatives, and even acquaintances is “when are you going back?” It seems like a regular question to ask someone who has just come from a foreign country.

It would be atypical to hear of a friend or a relative saying to the recent returnee “You know what, you came to Nepal at the perfect time. There are so many opportunities right here at home, and you can make an impact no matter what field you plan to get into. So we’re glad to have you back.” This is the type of attitude and response we should convey to people who have returned to Nepal.

I passionately suggest parents, relatives and friends to be aware of what they say to people who have recently come back or are planning to relocate to Nepal. We have to try to stay away from asking the returned individual “When are you returning? How long are you here for? Why did you even come back?” We should also steer clear from making comments such as “You won’t survive here. There’s not much to do here.” These questions and comments have deep short and long-term implications. When we ask questions and make comments like above, it presents a grim reality of Nepal to the youth abroad and they are driven out of the country again. Do we want that to happen?

Most young people go to study in the UK, the US and Australia among other countries, and they usually consider job opportunities in the country where they did their studies. Depending on their context, individuals abroad will decide what is best for them before choosing whether to return to Nepal or stay where they are. We understand that there are Nepali individuals pursuing advanced degrees (science, technology) and currently, the amount of opportunities available for them in a developed country are greater than in Nepal.

The time has come to ask an important question to ourselves: Are we all really encouraging and creating an environment for young people to think about coming back to Nepal? Individuals abroad will consider Nepal’s political situation, economic situation including job opportunities, and family ties, among other things, when they consider thinking about returning home. These are practical aspects for them to look into so that they don’t end up making a hasty decision.

I know numerous people who are currently abroad and are thinking of coming back to Nepal after completing their studies or working for a few years. Here are some simple ways we can encourage them to consider Nepal as a practical option. First, we should be proud to hear from young and educated individuals that they are thinking of coming back. We should be supportive and understanding of their decision. Second, we should give our friends and relatives abroad a realistic picture of opportunities available at home.

Our media mostly broadcasts images of strikes, tensions, crises and all sorts of negative situations that can drive away our educated youth. However, we as individuals can and must make a bigger impact. We can attest that the quality of life, the level of impact one can make, and the opportunity to lead a meaningful life in Nepal is second to none. Third, the returnees really need a positive support system at home. Family members, friends and relatives are the go-to people for recent returnees, and this definitely makes a difference to them.

At various events around Kathmandu, I meet returnees who are genuinely happy to be contributing their expertise and talent here. They can share their personal experiences with individuals abroad and provide a realistic assessment of living and working in Nepal. Certainly it is not a fairy tale to make an ethical living in Nepal presently, and yes, we have problems of load shedding, water supply, air and noise pollution, among others.

Then again, we also have many success stories of young entrepreneurs coming up with creative ideas to address various needs in the market. Returnees have started companies ranging from office space rentals, design firms, to market research firms, to name a few. Foreign educated Nepali individuals do have a competitive advantage in terms of job opportunities here at home. They can teach at college(s), work at respected organizations, and implement new ideas in the country. The skills and knowledge gained abroad can go a long way in Nepal.

We also need to do a self-assessment of our words and behavior regarding foreign returnees, and if they are aligned to what we say and do. Are we really encouraging the youth to consider coming back to Nepal? Are we giving them the right reasons when we ask them not to pursue opportunities in Nepal? Do we really understand the true talents of our children to be sure that there are no opportunities for them at home? What are we telling ourselves and our children abroad?

To summarize my thoughts, Anil Chitrakar put it neatly in the epilogue of his recent book Take The Lead Nepal’s Future Has Begun: “The year is 2020 and Nepal is a stable and peaceful democracy that has crossed 2,500 US dollars per capita for her 25,000,000 citizens and rising fast. As education levels rose, the banking sector grew robustly and young entrepreneurs began to flow in from different parts of the world where they had temporarily migrated to in the late nineties.”


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