2020 has been a year that will go down in history. The spread of the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed fault lines in societies around the world: health care and other key services have had trouble dealing with the virus, and disadvantaged communities have been disproportionately affected. Also, recently, we have seen a wave of protests and people coming together in solidarity against racism, systemic discrimination, oppression and injustice erupting in the United States and across the world. Its been year of so many ups and downs so far.
After months of social distancing, frustrations have been running high — many young activists have called for changes in the areas in which our societies can do better and are determined to make their voices heard. Meanwhile, plans to reopen cities are being unfolded, raising questions about what our new normal will look like.
A cloud of uncertainty hangs above, and I sometimes find it hard to shake. During times like these, however, I try to focus on the silver lining. As we face this crisis, I can’t help but notice the humanity and solidarity that has emerged from various sources: these young movements have arisen from a sense of solidarity with our peers; leaders are trying to listen to and understand the needs of their citizens during these difficult times; and, through it all, selfless and generous acts of support and care permeate our communities. We’re really all in this together, and hearing stories to this effect help me remember that, when times get hard, our true, caring and communal nature emerges.
This week, I am especially proud to introduce the next edition of 10 Young People who are fighting COVID-19 in their communities. These young people saw the current state of things, and responded with action, positivity and compassion. They are an inspiration to us all, and I hope that reading their stories helps you get through these days, as it does for me.
1. Razaki Sabi Zingui (Benin) – Setting up hand-washing stations and educating communities
In many communities across the globe, the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed many gaps, resulting in the need for interdisciplinary solutions being developed. The Beninese chapter of the World Youth Parliament for Water, for example, has launched an initiative to fight COVID-19 by increasing access to clean water and soap. With the support of Helvetas, a Swiss development organization, and the Netherlands’ OmiDelta Non-State Actors Fund, Beninese youth workers built handwashing stations from recycled materials and distributed them to various communities. In addition to the stations, volunteers rolled out a sensitization and training campaign, educating families on correct safety and sanitation measures, and empowering them to share this information with others. Recently, they have begun to expand their initiative towards the regions along the borders with Nigeria, Niger and Burkina Faso, as well as on various social media platforms. From April 6th to date, over 500 free stations have been distributed, and over 50 young people have been trained to build them and teach others how to use them.
2. UN Youth Action Group — COVID-19 (International) – Coming together to find global solutions
During these difficult times, young people have shown incredible innovation and resourcefulness. The UN Youth Action Group — COVID-19 is an initiative started by young leaders from various countries following the Major Group for Children and Youth’s declaration on COVID-19. This international working group aims to develop concrete and adaptable solutions to help every nation fight the current and other possible pandemics. Following various group meetings, they developed solutions to address the economic, social and environmental elements of the current crisis. In terms of health, for example, they developed the “aheme” platform, which supports communities by providing tools to aid prevention, information, awareness, tracking, diagnosis and rapid patient management, providing simple, secure and durable solutions that can be used worldwide. It will gradually introduce new solutions according to the evolution of the current public health context at local, national, regional and international levels.
3. ChildFund Pass It Back (Laos) – Using sport for development projects to prevent COVID-19
Many youth activities and groups have been forced to stop in an effort to ensure the safety of children and teachers, disconnecting many young people from their peers, mentors and education. ChildFund Pass It Back, an innovative Sport for Development program that aims to equip children and young people in Asia to overcome challenges, inspire positive social change and ‘pass it back’ to their communities, refuses to let the current state of being stop their mission. Even though social distancing restrictions are in place, ChildFund Pass It Back’s young coaches in Laos are continuing to play leadership roles in their communities by helping to distribute brochures on how to stay safe from the COVID-19 virus, as well as supplies such as soap and handwashing gels to schools and village offices. Malon, age 16, says: “We need to know how to prevent the virus from spreading through methods like washing our hands with soap or using hand wash gels every time before eating or after touching anything. We need to wash our hands properly and avoid touching our eyes, nose, and mouth. It’s also important to stay home.”
4. The Centers for Young People (El Salvador) – Sourcing creative coping mechanisms
The Centers for Young People, established in El Salvador in 2010 by EDUCO in partnership with municipal councils, are community and urban development spaces for young people, run by young people themselves to promote projects, actions and activities for their peers. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, youth from the Centers for Young People and the Young People’s Association in El Salvador organized a creativity competition, encouraging youth to find creative ways to support their communities during these difficult times. Youth submitted content to the Center’s Facebook page (Casa de Encuentro Juvenil de Mercedes Umaña). Youth from around the nation submitted various ideas: one project was a musical production by two siblings who regularly participate in the Center’s activities. They created a song to promote solidarity and awareness among the population for protecting themselves during the COVID-19 quarantine.
5. Mashael Kamran (Pakistan / UK & Spain)
Paying homage to front-line medial workers by song
The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic has inspired many people to action. Youth across the globe have been using their myriad of skills to support their communities and the essential workers and volunteers keeping us safe. For her part, Mashael Kamran is using the power of art and collaboration to bring some light to the world. Mashael, a Pakistani doctorate student at the Oxford Brookes University, has made waves among her peers by writing a heartfelt poem titled “Angels,” dedicated to the frontline medical workers who have lost their lives fighting the coronavirus pandemic. Rafael Serrallet, a famous Spanish guitarist and Guinness World Record holder, composed and performed a guitar accompaniment with his daughter Aitana, transforming the poem into a song.
6. YWCA (Korea) – Mobilizing communities to support front-line workers
The work of the first responders and front-line workers cannot be understated. As the first line of defense against the spread of COVID-19, they put their lives on the line every day to protect their communities. Luckily, many of these communities are working to support these essential workers. YWCA Korea, for example, has mobilized their members, as well as 53 local member associations, jumping quickly to aid the response. Through the “After You, then Me” campaign, YWCA Korea is encouraging communities to take a break from daily routines and think about how they can help frontline workers. By collecting and providing masks, flower baskets and snacks and meals to first responders, the organizations hope to deliver a message of love, empathy and appreciation. In addition to this work, they have also been initiating and running various fundraising activities for the worst affected region in the country.
7. Arin Parsa (USA) – Helping teens on social media find trusted resources from the WHO, CDC
Using social media to reach and support teens has become more important than ever during these times. Following the global measles outbreak last year, Arin Parsa, a 13-year old student from San Jose, California, founded Teens for Vaccines help raise awareness on how teens can find trusted information from the WHO, CDC and immunization coalitions. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Arin has been using his platform and on social media to help teens understand why shelter-in-place matters, find mental health resources, and promote funding campaigns for PPE for frontline healthcare staff in California. Arin is also helping teen victims of hate crimes find Anti-AAPI (Asian American & Pacific Islander) hate resources for them and their families, and appeals for empathy through TeenOpinions.org, a blog he co-founded last year with a friend. Arin also volunteers his time as a boy scout and is currently writing “thank you” letters to healthcare workers in local hospitals. Being a vaccine advocate, Arin is deeply concerned about dangers of misinformation and continues to work alongside immunization coalitions and vaccine advocacy groups to amplify their voices. Arin recently created a video from WHO and CDC infographics to combat COVID-19 misinformation.
8. Wakanda Café (China) – Helping essential workers with beverages
Due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, Guanggu Walking Street, Wuhan’s popular shopping avenue, was forced to close its spaces and shops as a safety measure. Despite this mandate, Wakanda, a coffee shop located on the street, remained open — but not for business. Starting on January 25th, the owners and staff of the Wakanda Cafe took it upon themselves to deliver cups of free coffee to the medical staff working at the nearby hospitals during the pandemic. Every day, the café’s 7 employees prepared 400–500 cups of coffee, delivering them at 9:30 am and 2:30 pm — By February 13th, they had delivered over 8,000 cups! The baristas also inscribe messages of support on every cup, coupling their hard work and selflessness with empathy and gratitude. All of these young workers are dedicated to doing all that they can to support the cause; one in particular, an Iranian barista named Sina, even refused to return home in favor of supporting Wuhan’s frontline workers.
9. YMCA OF PICTOU COUNTY (Canada) – Caring for the older members of the community
Many YMCAs across the globe are working to stay connect to their younger members during this difficult time. With the YMCA in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia, Canada, closed because of COVID-19, child-care staff at the facility are using their time to call seniors in the community and see how they’re doing. “There’s a lot of people who may not have people living in their homes, or family left to contact them, or friends that are close enough to help them out,” said Ashley Smith, director of child care at the YMCA of Pictou County. Staff have made 177 calls so far, contacting anyone who has stepped foot in the YMCA in the last five years. Smith said she thought it would be hard for staff to make the calls and that the people on the other end wouldn’t be interested in chatting, “but a lot of people were very excited to talk and some of these calls lasted more than half an hour,” she noted.
10. African Youth Fights COVID-19 – Uniting for those in need
As the COVID-19 Pandemic continues to affect communities around the globe, many children remain unable to return to schools, companies and livelihoods remain closed, and households continue to struggle to make ends meet. In an effort to support the African communities that are affected by the pandemic in various ways, a team of five African Union youth volunteers (Marcel Adounsi from Benin, Sara Mohamed from Somalia, Jordi Reo from Equatorial Guinea, Nafiisah Chotun from Mauritius and Chris Mitonini from Republic of Congo) came together to launch the ‘’African Youth Fights COVID-19‘’ initiative on April 28th, 2020. The project would collect videos of youth from Africa and the diaspora, aiming to show support and unity with the people fighting the COVID-19 Pandemic and emphasize the importance of staying united in the face of adversity. Young people could participate by registering their details on a Google form and uploading their video or sending their videos directly to the working team. In the end, the initiative received 83 videos from participants living in nearly all African Union member states. Christ Mitonini, who works in the Youth Division, then collated all these submissions into one video and shared it on call on Africa Day, May 25th, 2020.
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)