LYC Square: Mentoring Odisha’s rural youth

A community initiative, the Local Youth Career Square (LYCSquare) is changing Odisha’s villages, one youth at a time, discovers Premjit Mohapatra.

img_20150208_0827268521A village square in Odisha, once infamous for alcohol fuelled excesses, is now the scene for something quite different. Every morning, village youth gather near Andhoti under Harianta Gram Panchayat to exercise their muscles and get career guidance. It’s all thanks to a group of enterprising young men, who have come together as the Local Youth Career Square (LYC-Square) movement to reshape the destiny of their community.

Students, job-seekers and those looking for better opportunities form a majority of the audience. Here, they are guided and groomed by their counterparts, who have been fortunate enough to crack government and corporate jobs or secured admission in premier institutes. And only teetotallers are allowed to join.

Their endeavours have helped more than 50 youth secure jobs in the Armed Forces, Police, Paramilitary and other Government and Non-Governmental organizations since 2005, according to its convenor Chakradhar Behera, a former journalist and a recent Odisha Education Services (OES) recruit. The President of Lyc-Square, Alok Kumar Jena, believes it’s the moral responsibility of successful individuals from the community to support the dreams of their unemployed rural counterparts.

Rural Odisha is also plagued by lack of proper guidance centres, such as libraries and study centres. Lyc-Square fills that pivotal gap for educated rural youth of six different Gram Panchayats—Harianta, Sainso, Nahalpur, Khalarda, Nagari and Usuma—of Baranga and Kantapara block of Cuttack district in Odisha.

img_20150527_073903350_hdrThe community initiative conducts mock tests and physical fitness tests every Sunday for rural youth, in addition to soft skills training. Youth unemployment is acute in Odisha, with the state almost topping the country with a high 15% unemployment rate among graduates and 8.2% among post-graduates, as per the Labour Bureau Report in 2014. The members of LYC-Square inspire the job aspirants to stay focussed and not fall prey to disillusionment. The members have also learnt to leverage social media for networking and accessing job openings, admission notifications, besides reaching out to generous donors who could contribute much needed reading materials and stationery.
LYC-Square, in collaboration with other organizations, has also spearheaded anti-liquor campaigns, which has earned them a lot of appreciation from the villagers. They have held their own even against the powerful local liquor mafia.

“LYC-Square is not an NGO or coaching tutorial, but a community initiative,” states Chakradhar Behera.

“Instead of a confrontational approach with the liquor mafia, we create awareness about the negative effects of alcohol among the youth. As more of our members find employment, it becomes easier to dissuade other youth to kick the bottle. We have spread the word that only teetotallers are welcome to join. Just as success breeds success, the success of our members has attracted other youth and we continue to grow. They are the real change agents,” he adds.

LYC-Square is about a group of youth who refused to accept the status quo and instead set about to change it. In doing so, they not only shaped their own future but also set others on a positive path. They have shown that social change may come with some resistance and is slow to happen, but when it does, it benefits the society in the long run.

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