IT has been a decade since I have been creating awareness and campaigning that life skills training need to be part of the high school curriculum. Nepal Government has finally included this as part of the curriculum. Life skills are abilities for adaptive and positive behaviours that enable humans to deal effectively with the demands and challenges of life. This term is also known as psycho-social competency. Ten core life skill strategies as listed by UNESCO and WHO include problem solving, critical thinking, effective communication skills, decision-making, creative thinking, interpersonal relationship skills, self-awareness building skills, empathy and coping with stress and emotions as the most important life skills that people need to deal with various difficulties. Life skills could be anything from learning to tie a shoelace, to swim and save one's life or to negotiate a deal. Life skills can also help the youth to tackle peer pressure and say "no" to habits such as smoking, taking drugs or alcohol and having unsafe relationship. Effective communication People spent years and years in academic education but lack the ability to say “no” to things that are harmful to themselves and others and to communicate in such a way that the outcome of a negotiation becomes a win-win situation. In majority of households in countries like Nepal, families and schools do not focus on small things like how to communicate effectively because most of the times the elders themselves lack these skills and land up arguing more than having a healthy approach to solving a problem. While working with the youth and women’s groups in Nepal, Kenya and India, I learned that people all over the world have to deal with similar problems. At the end of the day, everyone wants to be happy! But the road towards happiness that people choose could be different. In search of happiness, people mostly land up in situations within their households and outside where they are unable to understand how they can actually find solutions to several problems that arise. As a result, I started looking at different tools of life skills and started working with the youth and women’s groups to help them develop these essential skills. In the process, they have helped me sharpen my own life skills. When we reached the middle of the training in Dadeldhura several years ago, a 16-year-old girl got up and shared her experience that when her alcoholic father beat her mother, she used to protect her mother. Then slowly her parents patched up in their relation but started beating her and made her work long hours, which was the reason why she discontinued her studies. She wanted to know how to deal with the situation. I taught her different skills on how to first understand herself and why she was feeling the way she was at a certain moment. I also taught her skills on how to understand the behaviours of people towards her and how to deal with them. There was also a session on child rights with a focus on girl children’s rights. The session was clear on the fact that the law mandated that children had a right to education and there was a special focus by Nepal Government to educate daughters, especially those who belonged to the underprivileged families. My session on girls/ women's rights also informed them that both daughters and sons now had equal rights over ancestral property. Therefore, the discriminatory treatments on education and work towards daughters were actually against the law. If both were treated well, the parents would benefit as both would take care of them in old age. I, therefore, asked the girl to review all the skills I had taught her and see if she could develop an effective communication strategy and negotiate with her parents. However, I had requested the local trainer to make sure that he followed up on her and her family as she was a bright student who was on the verge of dropping out from school as her parents were making her work more and study less. After a month, I followed up on her, and to my pleasant surprise, I learned that she had taken a week to talk with her parents very slowly without upsetting them. Also during the one-week training, she learnt that both daughters and sons had equal rights to education and property, and that if the parents did not educate their daughters, the government could take action against them. She also convinced them that if she completed the 12th grade, she could get a job and help her parents and brother to have a better life. She also mentioned to her parents that there were organisations that would visit the houses of children who were part of the training so that they could be monitored. The parents stopped beating her immediately and also started giving her more time to prepare for her Secondary Education Examination (SEE).
Significant change The local trainer visited her house and saw that her parents and the atmosphere of her household had changed for the better. Of course the 16-year-old helped her family as her parents belonged to the daily-labour community but their skills had changed significantly. There were no beatings and her brother helped her in the household chores so she could study more. This child had learned very important life skills of analysing the situation, developing compassion for her family and herself, looking at situations critically and creatively and developing an effective communication strategy to solving her problems. Similarly, the youth can learn how to prepare simple daily, weekly, monthly and yearly budgets and save money by developing skills at identifying and avoiding unnecessary expenditure.
(Namrata Sharma is a senior journalist and women rights advocate and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter handle: NamrataSharmaP)