Although we may not be out of the woods yet, the world is, slowly but surely, beginning to open up again. With summer upon us, people have flocked to parks, open spaces and public places in droves, trying to make up for lost time and erase thoughts of this pandemic.

Although the weather and crowds have been nice, tempting and reminiscent of simpler times, I try to remind myself that safety still comes first – social distancing, face masks, and health consciousness remain part of our everyday lives. We seem to have arrived at a sort of midpoint, and many of us are unsure of where this balancing act will lead us.

As we reach some positivity after a difficult start to the year, I have been proud to see that the work has not stopped. In support of their communities and medical professionals, so many movements, often led by youth, have made sure to keep up their efforts (and, in some cases, increased them) to make sure that, even as many loosen their safety measures, we all remain protected.

This week, I am proud to introduce you to another 10 of these young people whose tireless work has made a world of difference. From all corners of the world and from a myriad of different fields, these young people are working hard to keep up our collective momentum and progress. Reading these stories continues to inspire and motivate me to push for a full recovery that we can all fully enjoy.

  1. Youth VOICE Now! (in collaboration with ChildFund Indonesia)

In addition to the COVID-19 pandemic, we are also facing an infodemic – the spread of dangerous misinformation on social media – and many have been working to fight it as well. In March 2020, seven youth facilitators from Jakarta, Indonesia learned the key components of the Youth Voice Now! module to adapt their existing youth forum activities the situation brought on by COVID-19 once social distancing regulations were established, and youth were unable to leave their homes. They prefaced these new activities with an online and mobile survey on COVID-19 to get a sense of the knowledge, perception, and attitude surrounding COVID-19 among youth, and to better understand their learning from home experiences. It targeted children and youth from ages 10 – 24. After reviewing the results, the youth group worked with community-based child protection experts to disseminate key and accurate information on hygiene and sanitization during the COVID-19, including handwashing and mask-wearing norms. Some youth also participated in a village disinfectant group that disinfected public facilities and provided support for children’s activities in their village areas.

  1. The Indigenous Support Project (Canada) – Protecting indigenous traditions, knowledge and lives

Initially, the Indigenous Support Project was created to help Indigenous people on underfunded reservations in Ontario, Canada. After countless hours of research, however, it became apparent that the needs of Indigenous people around the world were not being met, either. With the knowledge and passion to change this, Anna Feredounnia-Meawasige, a 24-year-old of Ojibwe & Persian heritage, and Vienna Holdip, a 21-year-old of Mi’kmaq & Italian heritage, decided that they wanted to make a truly lasting and highly impactful change for Indigenous people, both in Canada and across the globe. With their combined knowledge learned during their studies at the University of Toronto, in addition to their hands-on experience from creating the project and working closely with UN Global Indigenous Youth, they believe they can meet the needs of all Indigenous peoples across the world. During this COVID-19 pandemic, in addition to their usual work of integrating knowledge of Western and Indigenous traditional agriculture and farming, traditional land-based knowledge, water purification, housing, environmental issues, environmental ethics, land reclaims, and education, they have been providing PPE to communities in need. The goal of the Indigenous Support Project is to provide the utmost assistance in all of these areas. “The protection of Indigenous traditions, language and peoples requires love, strength and offerings of oneself and/or their surroundings or community”, they explain. “As young women, we see the importance in not only the creation of our project, but also how integrating it into society to make it accessible to all people no matter the situation. We believe all Indigenous people should have access to our support and attention. Our young and creative minds believe in the future and we believe in ourselves. We are the support we need. We are this project. We are Indigenous”.

  1. Wang Yong (China) – Working to feed and transport medical professionals

During the peak of the pandemic in Wuhan, China, people were steering clear of Jinyintan Hospital, which is the first Wuhan hospital to focus on the treatment of COVID-19 patients. Undeterred, Wang Yong, a courier in Wuhan, decided to organize a team and offer free shuttle rides for the hospital’s medical staff, facilitating their commutes. Starting from Chinese New Year on January 2020, Wang Yong and his team of drivers shuttled medical staff back and forth between their homes and the hospital. They then reached out to car rental enterprises to participate and called on bicycle sharing enterprises to put bicycles around the hospital to facilitate short-distance travel. Wang Yong also worked on the establishment of a meal supply and distribution system, self-raised funds to provide instant noodles and water for medical staff, and went door to door to restaurants, convincing them to provide meals for medical staff and taxi drivers. This led to the establishment of a free standby distribution network for emergency meals, serving 15,000 meals to over 7,800 medical staff and front-line personnel. In addition to his work on hospital grounds, Wang Yong mobilized volunteers to purchase down jackets, nurse shoes, toiletries and other urgently needed items, and coordinated the purchase, delivery and distribution of medical supplies such as masks, shoe covers, ultraviolet lights, and more. He also provided general maintenance services as needed and delivered snacks and sweets. Wang Yong actively participated in the construction of a donation channel and organized fundraising and distribution of emergency medical supplies.        

  1. Olivier Uwishema (Rwanda) – Accurate information and safety for all

This pandemic has shown that, even at a distance, we can still help one another,and Olivier Uwishema from Rwanda is a key example of this. Olivier has been studying General Medicine in Turkey, and when COVID-19 was declared a pandemic during the end of his school year, he decided to see what he could do to help people stay informed and safe. In collaboration with several colleagues from the medical field, he founded Oli Health Magazine, “an International Scientific Research Academy designed to empower, educate and support people, especially youths, to take better care of themselves and create a more healthy world”. Through this website, Olivier and his team have been providing relevant and well researched medical information from a variety of sources to ensure that people are supplied with correct and safe information. As a side effect, he hopes to encourage medical professionals to communicate their knowledge more and empower vulnerable communities to become more self-sufficient. Motivated by their focus on accessibility, the website currently features COVID-19 information in 24 languages (including English, Turkish, French, Kinyarwanda, Spanish, Arabic, Mandarin, and Italian). He is currently collaborating with Harvard Medical School to expand the scope and quality of his work. “Despite the feelings of uncertainty and anxiety, I continue to take action and remain hopeful that there is a kinder, more compassionate world we can build together”, he states. “I invested so much in this project because I believe that I can contribute to making a world a better place”.

  1. YWCA – Digitizing the safe space

Although social distancing and stay at home orders helped us to stay safe during the COVID-19 pandemic, it also places many vulnerable people in precarious situations. Many young girls around the world face domestic violence, marginalization and health issues and have been unable to properly address them during this time. To help solve this, the World YWCA has been working to connect and create online conversations with women and young women from across the world, using virtual safe spaces.  After adapting the existing World YWCA Safe Space model to a virtual space and taking into consideration different time zones and languages, they organized 4 safe spaces and called for women and young women to register and join the conversation in a safe and participatory manner, discussing the unique challenges they are facing during the COVID-19 pandemic. In total, 80 women and young women from different regions registered and participated in the virtual safe space events held on Friday, 24 April on the occasion of World YWCA Day. The organization has, however, been encouraging YWCA member associations to replicate and continue this model within their communities, and, as much as possible, some YWCAs have been conducting virtual safe spaces via Zoom, WhatsApp, Skype among others. 

  1. Maurice (Philippines) – Protecting Fellow Girls as A Youth Peer Educator

As an isolated and rural area in the Philippines, Maurice’s community was among those that felt the worst impacts of the current global health crisis. Witnessing how the pandemic disproportionately affected the youth in her community, Mau, as she is known in her community, a 17-year old youth advocate from Plan International Philippines under the Collaborative Action Against Trafficking (CAAT) and the Girls Advocacy Alliance (GAA) projects, continues to send powerful messages of hope, courage and positivity by writing about her experiences, serving as a voice for marginalized youth and by helping her fellow young people as a youth peer educator.  Alarmed by the increase of gender-based violence cases in the Philippines following the passing of quarantine measures, she has been speaking out against abuse and violence and pushing for equal access to essential support systems and services. Applying what she’s learned in intensive youth peer education training courses over the years, Mau lends a hand to her peers, especially those who face greater risks of abuse and exploitation during COVID-19, by sharing practical advice and linking them with the proper agencies and authorities. As she continues to work with her fellow youth peer educators to campaign on relevant issues that affect young people, Mau highlights the need to prioritize the welfare and protection of girls and young women amid the pandemic. Mau and her network of youth peer educators also maximize the use of new technologies and online platforms to educate and drive conversations on issues related to COVID-19, specifically the adverse impacts of the pandemic to girls and young women and what can be done to mitigate these impacts. Among the recent activities initiated by Mau and her fellow youth peer educators include a series of online sessions with young people to keep each other’s mental health and well-being in check during COVID-19.

  1. Olugbenga Olusegun Ogunbowale (Nigeria) – Empowering African Orphans

Olugbenga Olusegun Ogbunwale is a 2019 Mandela Washington Fellow and the founder of The Orphan Empowerment Society (TOES) in Nigeria. Through this NGO, he works to equip orphans with free vocational skills, medical care and food to ensure that they can live prosperous lives. TOES has been able to efficiently tackle orphan poverty quickly and sustainably, with many of their former students going from living from hand to mouth to creating economic opportunities for themselves and others, enabling them access better health, education & social acceptance on their own terms, without waiting for aid. When the COVID-19 virus emerged, however, he was forced to shift his focus. Since the COVID-19 pandemic broke out on the African continent, TOES has been working tirelessly to provide palliative care to orphans living in the worst hit areas of their countries.  During COVID-19, TOES has provided free medical care to 105 orphans, donated 773 nose masks with free COVID-19 sensitization and provided free food to 824 orphans across 11 states in Nigeria as well as in Sierra Leone & Chad.

  1. Faisal CH (India) – Breaking records for community

Many youths have been drawn to volunteering their time and energy to support their communities, and some have taken this to new heights. Faisal CH, a National Service Scheme (NSS) Programme Officer at MEA Engineering College from the Malappuram district of Kerala state in India is one such person. Along with several engineering student volunteers, Faisal has been volunteering at the District Medical Office Malappuram since March 17th, 2020, recently completing 100 days of continuous voluntary service.  “This is the longest duration of volunteership on a single mission by any student volunteer organisation in India or maybe in the world itself”, explains Faisal – but, despite the incredible feat, his motivation lies deeper. “[I want to share this story] so that our volunteers will get a big motivation and the entire student community of the world will also be benefitted and motivated. We will continue the work till we conquer the Covid”. 

  1. HerStory (Arab States)Fighting gender-based misinformation

Back in 2016, the OSGEY team was able to join the launch of HerStory, a movement that aims to close the gender knowledge gap and push for Gender Equality in the Arab States Region.  Since then, HerStory, supported by thousands of volunteers and UN Women, has contributed more than 5000 articles on Arabic Wikipedia related to gender equality, women’s biographies and the SDGs, which has contributed to reducing the gender gap on Arabic Wikipedia from 9% to 4.2%. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, HerStory volunteers are currently monitoring mass and social media to combat misinformation and disseminate WHO-certified and official information on Wikipedia and other online channels. As they have found that existing gender inequalities are bearing an influence on the view of the crisis, and with the increased rates of gender violence and bullying, both in person and online, they have also been preparing and supporting campaigns to support women and girls who are at risk.

  1. Laura Beattie (UK) – #CloserThroughKindness

Laura Beattie and her sister Rachel are co-founders of an English luxury ethical womenswear brand named Careaux. With the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, Laura, who has Cystic Fibrosis, was forced to self-isolate with her sister in order to ensure her safety. “This got us thinking [about] how extremely lucky we are to have each other as sisters and to be able to stay at home”, she explained, “but we know that people are more at risk of feeling more alone and more vulnerable than ever and we wanted to do whatever we could to help. Rachel and I wanted to do something to support the crisis that is affecting us all so much”. To this end, she has launched her #CloserThroughKindness campaign. “Even though we all have to be physically distant from one another, we wanted to create a campaign where people feel less alone through acts of kindness”. Through the Careaux website and their social media, Laura and her sister have been encouraging people to share stories of kindness using the #CloserThroughKindness hashtag, often accompanied by a blue heart. As part of the campaign, Laura has also enlisted the help of UK factories in economic distress due to the pandemic to manufacture organic cotton special edition t-shirts which are then hand-embroidered by Rachel to raise money for various trusts and hospitals in the UK.