Postcard from... Kathmandu


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The Independent Online


From his school on a hill in Nepal’s capital, Khem Lakai looks down on the messy politics of Kathmandu and wonders when its politicians will stop bickering and start dealing with the country’s dire economy.

“We send all our young people to labour in menial jobs in the Middle East,” he said. “If only we could train those people, they could have a future.”

Almost single-handedly, Mr Lakai, 40, is trying to change that. His award-winning Global Academy of Tourism and Hospitality opened in 2007, a year after the end of the devastating civil war that claimed 13,000 lives, and now trains 350 budding chefs and hoteliers a year.

His own story is an inspiration for the students – growing up in a tiny village in northern Nepal that only got its first electricity in 2004, he went to college in Kathmandu, taught himself English in the British Council library and won a place at a Swiss hospitality college.

Later, working for the Sheraton hotel chain in Bahrain, he met hundreds of young Nepalese desperate for work but lacking skills, and decided to return home. “Nepal has so much to show the world, but we are wasting a lot of time because no one talks about building skills,” he said.

He has little faith that last week’s election – won by the centrist Nepali Congress – will change anything soon. Parliament still has to write a constitution that was due to have been finished in 2010.

“They think the constitution will solve all our problems, but without skills for the young, it means nothing,” Mr Lakai said.