It feels like a lifetime, but only a month has gone by since COVID-19’s designation as a pandemic. And even though we are far from knowing what it all means, we can start to see how this virus has collectively affected us. Small businesses and restaurants across the globe have closed. Millions of people have lost their jobs. Fear looms over the future.
But as we trudge through this dark tunnel, a light begins to shine: Italy and Spain, two of the most affected countries in the world, have begun to ease their lockdown restrictions. Countries and people across the world are effectively adapting to various levels of quarantine and lockdown. Countless people have shown their compassion and care for their fellow human through action. And many of us have a newfound and lasting appreciation of healthcare workers and the others who make our survival possible under these unprecedented circumstances.
In this difficult time, I am particularly inspired by young people across the globe who have been working to help their communities through these trying times.
Selflessly foregoing their time, energy and safety to help those in need, today’s youth are using their technical savvy to combat the effects of COVID-19. As the days meld together, and it seems as though there is no end to the pandemic in sight, young people are leading by example, showing us that this is the time to — metaphorically, of course! — join hands and help each other.
We will get through this crisis. And when we do, I am sure that history will show the world’s young people helped to build a bridge from fear to hope and from confusion to understanding.
In times like these, we all could use some good news. That is why I’m happy continuing my series introducing 10 young people who are supporting overworked and under-appreciated healthcare workers, their peers, and the vulnerable.
I was really moved by their spirit. And by the way, those tears in my eyes? Just been chopping a few onions is all… 😉
1) Madelle Kangha (Cameroon)
Increasing access to education
Virtually all children are out of school now, and we do not know when classroom doors will open again. This places many children and their families, particularly those living in disadvantaged environments, in a difficult situation. In an effort to provide young people in these communities with continued learning opportunities, Madelle Kangha, a Young Leader for the Sustainable Development Goals recognized by the UN for her leadership, is using her organization, Jumpstart Academy Africa, which provides secondary school students with hands-on learning opportunities, to raise funds to supplement the education of children and youth who are being kept out of school by the COVID-19 pandemic.
2) Dr. Salameh Habashneh (Jordan)
Dedicating time to cover staff shortages in hospitals
Governments across the globe are feeling overwhelmed by the spread of the coronavirus but this is not stopping young people from making a difference. Dr. Salameh Habashneh is a 23-year old final-year medical student at the University of Jordan, and the Focal Point in charge of the Youth Peer Education Network (Y-PEER started to mobilize social media platforms to spread awareness messages on how to combat the COVID-19 virus. With the support of UNFPA, Dr. Salameh and his peers are dedicating their time to cover the staff shortages and support the hospital “Flattening the curve is our responsibility,” he says, adding that youth should stay home and raise awareness on protection measures within their communities.
3) Idris Bilyaminu Ndasadu’Lau (Nigeria)
Raising awareness and distributing
Over the past two years, it has been documented that nearly half of the world’s population struggles to meet basic needs. These people must continue to work, despite calls for self-isolation. That is why Nigeria’s Youth Awareness and Peace Development (YAPD) decided to help take care of Nigerians in this situation. Led by Idris Bilyaminu Ndasadu’Lau, the founder and CEO of YAPD, the organization has been helping disadvantaged people by providing them with food supplies. That enables more individuals to stay at home and protect themselves, their families, and their communities. YAPD has been providing homemade face masks and sanitizers to supplement the current low and overpriced supply. Its members also use social media to spread awareness on how to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Conducting online skill building
Although COVID-19 has caused the disruption of youth education across the globe, it has also provided opportunities for new forms of teaching and learning. YMCA youth workers in Kosovo, for example, have been helping hundreds of young Kosovars develop new and important skills through online education sessions. When YMCA’s physical centres closed, youth workers committed to transferring all of their programs online. Run in partnership with UNICEF, this programme also aims to help inspire and empower youth to become social change agents in their communities. The youth workers already serve more than 600 young people, and plan to double that number.
5) Elina Bryabina (Kyrgyzstan)
Delivering food and psychosocial support to vulnerable communities
During trying times like these, we are able to see the brightest sides of human nature. Around the world, many people are risking their safety to do whatever they can to help others. Elina Bryabina, a 28-year old woman from Kyrgyzstan, spent five years volunteering with the Red Crescent Society in her country, supporting their mobile youth groups and providing first aid and psychosocial support to people in need. Today, she has been using this experience to help vulnerable residents. As part of a dedicated group of volunteers, she has been delivering food parcels to lonely older people and people with disabilities in Bishek City, while offering them psychosocial support. Aware of the risk, Elina is proud of the services that she is able to provide, and experiences nothing but support from her husband and daughter at home.
6) Paisley YMCA (Scotland)
Producing Critical supplies
Around the world, medical professionals working on the frontlines struggle to different degrees with overcrowded hospitals, uncooperative patients, and not enough protective gear to protect themselves while they risk their lives to save others. In an effort to support them, the YMCA in Paisley, a town on the outskirts of Glasgow, Scotland is trying to generate critical supplies. Paisley’s YMCA Makerspace, an art and technology hub that teaches youth digital and creative skills, is collaborating with @thisismakers, a laser cutting service based in Glasgow, to design and print Personal protective Equipment for frontline health workers.
7) Aditya Indla, (United States)
Fundraising to produce protective equipment for healthcare workers
On the other side of the Atlantic, Aditya Indla, a sophomore at Bellarmine College Preparatory, in San Jose, California, is also helping produce protective gear. Working in partnership with Bellarmine Maker Lab, Empowering Youth Action, a Bellarmine College Prepstudent organization, Aneesh Sharma, a UC Berkeley researcher and Maker Nexus, a non-profit maker-space organization in California, Aditya devised a plan to get more PPE for healthcare workers. He organized a fundraising campaign to raise money for production, and enlisted Maker Nexus and volunteer makers to produce protective face shields, with a goal of raising $10,000 to protect 1,000 health care workers. Launched on in March, his campaign has already raised more than $8,000 toward that goal.
8) YMCA (Bangladesh)
Awareness raising and Disinfecting campaigns
Proper hygiene and practical information are two of the best weapons against this pandemic. With that in mind, several young people in Bangladesh set out to accomplish both of these in one fell swoop. The Youth Forum of Bisiri YMCA and alumni from the APAY School of Peace in Bisiri initiated action programs to combat the spread of the virus. Equipped with disinfectant spray, the young volunteers have been regularly spraying the village of Bisiri and its Utrail Bazaar to help prevent the spread of the virus. They are also distributing coronavirus awareness leaflets with information on how to stay safe through proper hand-washing, staying home, and maintaining social distance. To date, they have visited 100 shops and reached 350 families.
9) Ruke Okeme (Canada)
Delivering food to the most vulnerable people
Unfortunately, in times like these, the vulnerable groups within societies are often the ones who are most affected. Refugees and displaced people, for instance, are at a severe risk because they lack access to already limited services. Ruke Okome, living in Montreal, Canada, responded by joining with a group of volunteers to organize and make in food deliveries to refugee communities, helping them get through this trying time.
Before the pandemic began, Free Footie Society empowered disadvantaged children living in the inner city of Edmonton with the opportunity to participate in various sports for free in an effort to help them have fun without worrying about financial barriers to entry, adding some positivity to their lives. Now, they have shifted their focus to further support these young people during the pandemic. With the help of local non-profit organizations, they have launched the Free Food Program: Families can sign up online and receive a delivery of food hampers from volunteers.
Initially brought in to book transportation and facilities and coordinate volunteers, Ruke’s role has now shifted to the Free Food Program, leading food deliveries and volunteers, helping the organization reach over 200 families in the past 3 weeks. “In times like these”, Ruke explains, “when everything is so uncertain, I find solace in the fact that I have and will continue to be able to support those who need it.”
10) Jama Jack (Gambia)
Tackling disinformation and bridging the knowledge gap
All over the globe, the threat of fake news has spread alongside the coronavirus. As explained by Guy Berger, the Director of Policies and Strategies regarding Communication and Information at UNESCO, “when disinformation is repeated and amplified, including by influential people, the grave danger is that information which is based on truth, ends up having only marginal impact”. Jama Jack is trying to make sure that this doesn’t happen in her country. As the Head of Communications of the Medical Research Council Unit for the only COVID-19 testing center in The Gambia, Jama is working to make sure that the gap in knowledge is not filled with false information: she initiated an awareness campaign of myth-busting posters and videos, making sure to feature the potentially life-saving information in several Gambian languages.
I hope that these stories will inspire you to see young people as responsible, resilient and resourceful in times of crisis as they truly are.
If you know other young people who are showing exceptional leadership in time of this pandemic please let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org we would love to share their stories.