Asia is home to a large number of the world’s young population which indicates the enormous untapped potential we have in our youth to shape the future of the world as a better and safer place. By 2020, India’s share of youngsters in its total population is expected to be around 35 per cent. Rotary defines youth as comprising persons of 18–30 years of age. This is when they are brimming with ideas, energy, drive, passion and idealism. The spirit of doing good for others and working for the betterment of the less-privileged take root, and if nurtured well, it can become a life-consuming passion. This is the time when we can use our youth to act as catalyst to bring about meaningful change in social behaviour and attitudes. They can challenge stereotypes, embrace good practices and think out-of-the-box.
Let me share an interesting and inspiring true life story I read recently. With the right screenplay and good production values this story can make an exciting Bollywood blockbuster.
Every morning, at the small village of Banwari Tola in Padrauna area of Kushinagar district in Eastern UP, Deepak (17) and Raju (15) unlock the doors of their modest barber’s shop and get ready for business. Customers get the usual haircut, shave and sometimes a head massage from the two “boys”. Just that Deepak is actually Jyoti, and Raju is Neha, sisters who, facing starvation after their father was paralysed by a stroke, began running the shop on their own five years ago. To get around social criticism and unwanted attention from men, the sisters had some time ago begun to dress and talk like boys in public. As they grew older, it became difficult to hide the fact that they were girls. But by then, it was too late. They could either give in to pressure and head back home, saving themselves from the unsolicited advances of their completely male clientele or do something about it. Some of the criticism came from the girls’ own family members who were also against them working in, what they said, was a male profession. But they became hair-cutters out of compulsion, not choice. There was nothing else they could have done to feed their family. The sisters not only managed to keep their family afloat, but they also went to school in addition to working at the shop. But their financial situation forced Jyoti to quit school after Class XII, while Neha dropped out after Class X. The shop is doing well these days by local standards, and they dream of opening a beauty parlour someday. These girls have not only supported their family but have fought all odds including social criticism. The teenagers have brought in change with grit and determination. We salute their spirit.
This true life story really touched me in many ways. Rotary clubs must continuously partner with the youth in all phases of humanitarian action because the future generation is an important stakeholder in the growth of Rotary and the country.
Director, Rotary International