We are experiencing a pivotal moment in history. With majority of countries in the world implementing lock downs, curfews and stay at home orders for the first time in this century, (or first time EVER?!) we have seen a wide variety of reactions to this seemingly interminable state of confinement.
While some of us have adapted to our current reality, some of us are struggling to cope with a variety of new, old or amplified challenges. Social media feeds seem split between advocating for extreme productivity made possible by quarantine versus ways to practice radical self-care and cope with anxiety, frustration and fears.
There is no “correct” way to cope with this new reality. As we near another month of quarantine, we are all just trying to find ways to stay positive and make it through a difficult and uncertain time. While these theories face off in the digital world, I always find myself drawn back to images of empathy, altruism and kindness. On days when stress, frustration and sadness are running high, I find solace in the stories of young people working to support their peers, families and communities through the various levels of lockdown that we are experiencing around the world.
From finding ways to maintain supporting vulnerable communities and raising awareness, young people across the globe are doing all that they can to help us deal with this virus and its effects.
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.
These young people help me feel like, even though it doesn’t always feel like it, everything will be alright. And, right now, that means the world.
1.Sofia Jimenez Poire (Mexico)
Supporting LGBTQI+ Youth
While being in quarantine protects us and others from an unmanageable spread of the virus, for many, it also brings up other risks. Members of the LGBTQI+ community, for instance, may face a particular set of concerns. Many reports show that LGBTQI+ youth could have a higher risk of experiencing anxiety and suicide especially due to potential issues stemming from being confined with family members who may not accept them. Sofía Jiménez Poiré, a Mexican activist and SheDecides 25×25 Young Leader, has been working to help people trapped in these situations. Using her experience supporting women and children who have suffered domestic and intimate partner violence, she is using her current platform as coordinator of Balance’s Sexual Identity programme to help LGBTQI+ youth cope with the stigma, abuse, and domestic violence that they experience due to their sexual orientation and gender identity.
2.Velveeta Viban and Kabila Gana Lapnet (Cameroon)
Supporting IDPs with sanitation and educational needs
As in many countries around the world, vulnerable populations in Cameroon have greater risks being impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. With school closures and increased difficulty accessing public services now added to pre-existing challenges, there are worries that the effects of the pandemic will disproportionately affect them, leading to the widening inequalities such as the literacy gap, especially amongst the Internally displaced persons (IDPs).
To address this, Velveeta Viban, the founder of I am Human Org initiated a Crisis Response Education Project to help over 700+ internally displaced persons who have fled civil unrest in different parts of the country and are living in cluster communities with little access to basic needs. Her Project provides them with adaptable water dispensing buckets, disinfectants, soaps and hand sanitizers to improve their sanitation conditions especially in a time like this when washing hands is primordial. To expand the impact of her project, Velveeta partnered with Youths4Change, led by Kabila Gana Lapnet. Thanks to this partnership, they are also providing children across Cameroon with educational materials like activity books, animated videos, charts and games so that they can maintain their education.
3.Longes Gabriel (Uganda)
Raising awareness through songs
Many young leaders are working to tackle misinformation regarding the coronavirus, using their knowledge of digital media to spread correct information through their communities. In less urbanized areas, however, addressing misinformation requires a different set of skills. In the rural Karamoja region of Uganda, for example, some villagers are placing their trust in traditional gods to keep them safe from the virus, and others are drinking pure alcohol, following a misguided belief it will protect them from catching the virus.
In order to make sure that these communities are properly informed and protected, Longes Gabriel, a 26-year old songwriter and singer (also known as “Airjay”), has recorded and released two songs to raise awareness and help keep his community safe. Previously working as a community development volunteer with Restless Development, “Airjay” decided to use his talent to help his people through uncertain times.
“While I am blind in both eyes, I can feel the pandemonium that this pandemic has caused in my community and all I can do is to raise my voice, in the form of songs of awareness to contribute towards the government’s efforts to keep us safe.”
4.Chelvin Ramsamy (Mauritius)
Providing essential needs to vulnerable families
On the Island of Mauritius, up to 35,000 vulnerable families are not on the country’s social register, placing them outside of the scope of social safety nets placing them in precarious positions in this time of crisis. In order to address the needs of these people, 25-year-old Chelvin Ramsamy and 9 other alumni from President Obama’s Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) have come together to form SAREPTA, an initiative aiming to provide food packs to the aforementioned vulnerable families. To serve these people, Chelvin and his team members take calls, prepare food packs, coordinate with beneficiaries, and deliver essential materials, from food to sanitary products. With collaboration, support and monetary and material contributions from Mauritian citizens and businesses, SAREPTA has surpassed its initial goal of reaching 8,000 families and plans to support more through this pandemic.
5.Ismail Kone (Cote D’Ivoire and Ghana)
From sustainability to sanitation: Sensitizing local communities
A silver lining of the coronavirus outbreak has been the simultaneous outbreak of empathy, kindness and innovation that has been seen in response. The members of the Green Student Association at Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology in Kumasi, Ghana, have used their preexisting structures and programs to engage in awareness campaigns in support of their communities. Led by Ismail Kone, an Ivorian PhD student, Green Student Association is a group of sustainability and climate-focused young people, who advocate for sustainable living using trainings and videos. Following the outbreak of COVID-19, however, they have begun using these techniques to sensitize communities in Ghana and Côte D’Ivoire on the dangers of the virus. They also provide information in local languages to make sure that the messages reach communities as far as possible.
6.Shiva Oswal (USA)
Online LARPing communities
Due to the restrictions put in place to combat the spread of the virus, many leisure and social activities had to be put on hold. For Shiva Oswal, a high school student from Cupertino, California, this meant no more Live Action Role Playing (LARPing). LARPing is a role-playing game during which people come together, embody a history or fantasy themed character, and act out a story line decided by the game master. It provides a safe outlet for creativity, creating a community of like-minded people who support and encourage each other while having fun. In order to help kids cope with isolation and mental health issues brought on by this pandemic, Shiva has set up online LARP missions. In association with Fanwar, a LARPing company, Shiva hosts weekly games, acting as game master, referee and mentor to the younger kids, maintaining their sense of community and offering a fun escape from reality.
7.The National Coalition for Youth Peace and Security (Jordan)
Elak o Feed: For You and For the Benefit of Others
The potential for young people to play a key role in the slowing of the spread of COVID-19 has been widely reported, and, in Jordan, many young people are showing why this is the case. Thanks to their networking skills, and with the right training, young people can be counted on to assist health professionals break the chain of infection. Jordan’s National Coalition for Youth Peace and Security 2250 is mobilizing its voting body towards a collective action: 22 organizations and entities from research institutes, universities, civil society, UN actors, and NGO’s, as well as 20 young men and women working towards peace and security across the Kingdom in various ways, are working with “Elak o Feed” (translation: for you and for the benefit of others), a national campaign organized in collaboration with the Ministry of Health, Royal Health Awareness Society, UNICEF, WHO and National Center for Family Affairs. This campaign aims to frame virtual and social media messaging concerning COVID-19, ensuring that accurate messages are shared with everyone, regardless of digital or any other inequalities.
8.Natalie Ringo (Kenya)
Making sure that menstrual health needs of women and girls are met
As people around the world struggle to adapt to the ever-evolving situation and lockdown spurred by COVID-19, Nathalie Ringo, a 24-year-old Kenyan youth activist working with Restless Development, has had her mind set on supporting the menstrual health needs of women and girls in living in vulnerable situations. For the past two weeks she has been leading a team of volunteers to set up care banks to ensure that vulnerable girls and women are not overlooked and can get menstrual care. To date, these care banks have supported 200 women and girls, and Natalie hopes to reach more in the coming weeks as the lockdown continues:
“In times of crisis like this, every effort matters and I feel good that I am able to help the most vulnerable women and girls in my community to access menstrual health care.”
9.Xiukun Wang (China)
Caring for the children of frontline workers in Wuhan
Due to the heroic sacrifices of frontline health workers around the world, our countries, communities and families have been able to weather the storm that is COVID-19. But while they care for us and our loved ones, who is offering support to the families of these frontline workers? With their children, in particular, at home, many medical professionals worry about not only children’s education and mental Health.
Xiukun Wang, a 22-year-old student at Wuhan University and member of the Youth Volunteers Association, is-one of the young leaders providing care for the children of frontline medical staff in Wuhan. Starting from the early stages of the pandemic, she and her team mobilized to help frontline medical workers care for their children (aged kindergarten to high school) online. Since February 9th, she has been spending her days and nights recruiting volunteers, matching them to families of healthcare workers, and developing new and innovative ways of interacting with children, while also teaching English twice a week, as part of the online service. Currently, she has matched 1378 volunteers to the families of 641 medical workers in China’s Hubei province.
10.Red Crescent Society (Malaysia)
Supporting the country’s coronavirus response needs and workers
We were all caught off guard by the outbreak of coronavirus. As such, countries and communities were under-equipped, both in terms of both communications strategies and materials. To help respond to these needs, the Malaysian Red Crescent Youth volunteers have been working on several activities. They have self-produced and distributed 50,000 face shields nationwide to date. Driven by youth, this campaign also includes distribution of other Personal Protective Equipment such as protective gowns, head & leg covers, masks and gloves to hospitals and clinics. Additionally, the Malaysian Red Crescent Youth have been providing both first aid kits and hand sanitizers to police and armed forced who are managing the lockdown. Finally, under the slogan “Leaving Nobody Behind and Left out”, the Malaysian Red Crescent and its young volunteers at the frontline are undertaking plans aimed at sensitizing and supporting vulnerable communities to prevent in-community spread of the virus.
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.
Read my other Blogs:
Meet 10 leaders who can inspire you to change the world (1st Edition)