"Our ultimate goal was to empower the youth to earn their bread and butter, and be independent without having to leave their homes."
For decades, the Northeastern states have been in the eye of a socio-politico-economic storm that has adversely affected social development, especially in the education and employment sector, causing a mass exodus of its youth.
Lakhs of North Eastern youngsters have been forced out of their homes to search for a livelihood in other cities. And for Delhi-based lawyer, Hekani Jakhalu, the same reality is the mirror to her life and its purpose.
“When I was in Delhi, I would regularly encounter people from the NE working in various areas in the city. Be it parlours, restaurants, malls or other jobs; the city was full of them. I always wondered if it was a choice or were they obligated.
Many had even come from small villages, making the city experience highly expensive and culturally different. The question of what pushed them to migrate began to bother me,” she says.
The seed of this discomfort soon propelled her to give up her dream job in pursuit of a solution.
She realised that the root of migration stemmed from the lack of employment-generating industries in the area and the general lack of skills in the NE youth.
Thus, she began to plan the change.
Soon a catalyst arrived in the form of a chance encounter with the then Chief Minister, Neiphiu Rio. He inspired her to start YouthNet, in 2006, to provide employment and entrepreneurial scope to the youth of Nagaland.
MG Motor India and The Better India present MGChangemakers Season 2, with stories like that of Hekani, which prove that when individuals curate meaningful experiences, large scale social change can be triggered.
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“Being a lawyer has always been my dream. So, I joined a Delhi-based civil and corporate law firm and worked there for almost two years. But, in hindsight, I wanted to do more, especially for my region,” shared Hekani who left her job and returned to Nagaland to pursue her calling.
After several ups and downs, she finally established YouthNet on 1 February 2006 to address issues by creating safe and flexible employment spaces within the region.
But, the work was never easy.
“Being in a politically disturbed area, people were apprehensive and scared to step out of their homes after sundown. Thus, a regular job seemed an impossibility, driving many out of the state to search for jobs,” she pointed out.
With time, the ground realities slowly surfaced.
“You can talk volumes about changing the world, but you can’t do so without food in your stomach. So our ultimate goal was to empower the youth to earn their bread and butter, and be independent without having to leave their homes,” remarks Hekani.
But, despite a troubled start, the organisation slowly branched out all across the state and beyond, changing the lives of more than 1 lakh youngsters.
Be it a jobcentre where locals would be recruited in hospitality and retail sectors, to RTI awareness campaigns to weed out corruption contributing to the unemployment scenario, YouthNet has worked on multiple objectives.
The organisation also emphasises on skill development, youth consultation, and entrepreneurship programmes.
YouthNet has empowered the youth of NE by educating, training, grooming and skill development sessions, entrepreneurial assistance, glamorising common occupations like construction work and setting up ‘Made in Nagaland’ to promote and encourage local entrepreneurs.
‘Made in Nagaland’ already houses products from over 100 entrepreneurs, thanks to her efforts.
“I found my calling in life, and now I want to help others find theirs. Because to dream, to hope and to pursue happiness is a human thing!” she concludes.