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Our youngsters play a critically important part in the future of our country - they are tomorrow’s leaders, workers and innovators. Keeping that in mind, we must engage our youth in numerous ways and create conducive environments for them.

Today, issues concerning the youth affect almost all societies in the world and Bhutan is no exception. But, in Bhutan, our youth display exceptional potential even as youth problems continue to soar. Their patriotism and spirit of volunteerism ripple throughout the country. They come forward to serve in times of natural disasters and emergencies. They are willing to work in farms and in towns alike to eke out a respectable existence. And while some have excelled in the arts, others have their hearts set on sports and science. The bottom line is, they need to be nurtured, guided and engaged meaningfully. Only then will they be able to excel and forge ahead to make a name for themselves and, in the process, make the country proud.

Their potential and achievements show promise. The government must ensure that there are policies in place to provide them the platform to pursue their goals and talents. Over the years, however, our institutions have grown sceptical towards our youth and their problems along with the challenges they face. The stigma hangs heavy for youth gone astray because our system perhaps didn’t know any better when dealing with them in the past. Children into drugs and in conflict with the law are often abandoned and shamed. Our education system has turned into a policy testing ground where we have time and again erred. It is time we get serious and make amends.

Yes, engaging marginalized youth presents a significant challenge in our society, because they are often disconnected from and distrust the systems that are currently in place. Yet, meaningful engagement is a key concept not only for optimal youth development but also as a catalyst for system change to improve support for high-risk, marginalized youth. Most importantly, youth

should be more respectfully acknowledged as a key contributor to youth development and system change. Only then can concrete change actually take place.

Although public opinion often tends to view youth either as problems to be solved or as passive attendants of youth programs, the need of the hour is a youth-oriented approach to social change. We must make policies that posit youth as civic assets whose insights and contributions are essential to building healthy communities. Sadly, we have failed to tap the potential of our youth knowing very well that they are a potent resource for community change. To engage them and bring about positive change requires more time, resources, and intentionality than many anticipate. It is high time we begin.