Meet 10 Young People Fighting COVID-19 10th Edition

Somehow, these last 5 months have gone by incredibly fast and achingly slow all at once. From fear, shock and disbelief to an uncertain and tense air of stability, we have all been challenged and pushed to collectively rethink our ways of life and behaviors.

The COVID-19 pandemic has made sure that this new decade will be unlike anything that we’ve seen in recent memory, and no one is coming out unaffected. As global health systems see their faults exposed, the growing pressures caused by the variety of inequalities that exist in our societies have been compounded, with disadvantaged groups across the globe standing up to advocate and push for significant systemic change. Alongside these drastic changes, displays of solidarity, compassion and selflessness have also become more common as people have been looking to bridge gaps and offer support as needed.

Throughout all of this, I have been amazed the see the prominent role that young people have been taking in this COVID-19 era: They have been leading social justice movements and COVID-19 relief initiatives, both in person and online, showing resilience and focus during a time when it feels like the world is upside down. During the 4 months spent writing this blog, I have been able to see and highlight the amazing ways in which young people have come together and mobilized us all to be and do better. From technological innovations and grocery deliveries to social media groups and PPE distributions, these stories have given me hope and shown me that we can all make a difference. And, in times like these, that has made a world of difference.

As we reach the end of this blog series, I would like to express what an honor is has been share these 130 stories. All of these weeks have been a much-needed influx of positivity and inspiration, and they give me hope for our future — we don’t know what’s coming next, but I have faith that the future of our world is in the good hands of young people.

With that being said, it is my honour to present you with our 10th and final edition of the “10 Young People Fighting Coronavirus in their Communities” blog series. I hope that this series has touched you as deeply as it has touched me, and I urge you to remember one thing: although the series is ending, the work continues — it is up to us to find, create or amplify them.

1.Bagirata (Indonesia)
Creating community support systems

When Jakarta implemented social and physical distancing policies, things began to change drastically, with employers asking their employees to work from home and public spaces and small business closing. While being forced to stay in kept many safe, it also threatened livelihoods. Business owners started to put their employees on unpaid leave and layoffs to cut costs and maintain their businesses. As the pandemic worsened, so did the situation, as those who were financially impacted struggled to find support. It is in light of this new reality that “BagiRata” was founded in mid-March 2020 by young Indonesian professionals.

“Not being able to work and not having regular income has taken a hit to our close friends”, explains the team. “It is so worrying since no one really knows when or how this would end. It also brought anxiety to us, when people are not being heard and taken care of, it could cause riot in our society”.

Seeing how the pandemic and ensuing economic issues were affecting the youth, the team decided to create a horizontal support system made up of their peers. BagiRata (or equal distribution in Indonesian), is based on the idea of facilitating communal wealth redistribution by mobilizing workers who still have job security and regular income and matching them with un- or underemployed peers that they can support.

“To simplify, it is like Tinder attached with QR code”.

2.Xu Yiwei (China)
Joining forces with essential workers

Throughout this pandemic, supermarket employees have been working hard and risking their lives to make sure that their communities are well equipped to deal with a prolonged period of lockdown. But while they help us, who is supporting them? Xu Yiwei, a college student volunteer in Toudao Village, Jiaxinzi Town, Baoqing County, China, sought to be the answer to this question: during the lockdown, he decided to volunteer in his village’s supermarket as an errand worker. Every day he went to the supermarket and helped with loading, weighing, and delivering essential goods. In the end, he delivered goods to more than 100 villagers, walking over 10 kilometers every day. While doing these deliveries, Xu Yiwei also helped to spread awareness and share safety measures to villagers who were not wearing masks or respecting social distancing rules.

3.Olanika Timipa-Uge (Nigeria)
Shedding light on the shadow pandemic

While the COVID-19 crisis progresses, many fear the rise of what is now known as the “shadow pandemic”: the gender-based violence that women and girls suffer around the world. In Nigeria, for example, as many adolescent girls are less knowledgeable about their sexual and reproductive health rights and do not know how and where to report, they are becoming increasingly vulnerable. With the shutting down of schools, many girls have been put in close proximity with abusive fathers, relatives, and neighbors, are made to do house chores and run errands for the family without protection from COVID-19, and are being forced to engage in transactional sex or marriage for essential sanitary materials because their parents are unable to provide them.

“If violence against girls continues”, states Olanika Timipa-Uge, the founder and executive director of Teenage Network, “a lot of girls will be unable to return to school after the pandemic as a result of teenage pregnancy, forced marriages, death from exposure to COVID 19, and unsafe abortion, which will further increase the gender inequality margin”.

To fight against this shadow pandemic, the Teenage Network has set up response teams with helplines in three states in Nigeria; Ondo, Ekiti, and FCT to provide support for girls at risk and victims of sexual abuse. They also designed online sensitization courses to provide sexual and reproductive health education and organize community outreaches to teach girls who do not have access to technology about COVID-19, sexual and reproductive health rights, and also to provide them with sanitary materials such as; reusable facemasks, sanitary pads, and soap.

“Every girl deserves to be safe and free to achieve their dreams”.

4.Fundación Acción Interna (Colombia)
Supporting the rights and futures of prisoners

group of prisners in facemasks

When the COVID-19 pandemic began to spread across the globe, many did not think to offer support to some of the most at risk members of society: prisoners. Due to the high level of overcrowding in prisons in Colombia, COVID-19 is currently spreading 5 times faster than normal. When the first cases of COVID-19 were confirmed in Bogotá in March 2020 and concerns about its spread began to rise in the country, there was a riot in the city’s Modelo prison, with inmates demanding guarantees of their rights and protection of their lives in the midst of the pandemic. Unfortunately, the riot led to 23 deaths and over 80 injuries. Motivated by this event, Fundación Acción Interna (Internal Action Foundation), a non-profit that works to improve the lives of inmates, sprung to action. In order to push for the implementation of corrective and preventive measures to ensure the well-being and care of the inmates, the guards, and their families, they launched the Segundas Oportunidades (Second Chances) campaign, using mass media to encourage members of civil society to dispel their prejudices, be empathetic and work towards building a better society. In addition, they provide socially distanced or virtual safe companionship to inmates, guards, former inmates, and their family members, offering psychosocial support through quarantines and recoveries. The campaign also invites citizens to support the Fundación Acción Interna’s work through donations of money or other forms of support to provide humanitarian aid to the prisons.

“The campaign seeks to help reduce the rapid contagion that is taking place in the prisons, preserve the food security of the relatives of the inmates and the former inmates who mostly live in vulnerable communities, and give continuity to the process of re-socialization and reintegration”

explains Adriana Cómbita Moreno, one of Fundación Acción Interna’s members. To date, this initiative has helped over 400 families has helped slow the spread of the virus.

Four young people sitting on the side of a road posing at the camera.

5.Muhammad Abdul Hadi (Pakistan)
Protecting and supplying vulnerable families

Muhammad talking to two men in uniform

In Pakistan, one social group that has been heavily affected by the COVID-19 crisis is the working class. As they have been unable to leave the house and work, many families have been struggling, as they do not have enough money for essential supplies and food. The members of Jaago — Be The Change, a charity based in Multan, Pakistan, quickly came together to protect their people.

“I have been working with my organization for the past three years and helping people in different capacities through the platform”

explains Muhammad Abdul Hadi, a young member of the organization.

“As soon as we heard about the lockdown and the families being affected, we mobilized all our resources to stand with our people in need”.

Through the “Own Your People” Initiative, Jaago’s team has developed a system to determine those who are most in need through research and then deliver food and other essentials.

“I have a team of devoted volunteers who mainly collect and verify the data and channelize the meals through proper methods”, states Muhammad.

By June 30th, they had provided families with over 120,000 meals, and regularly share basic sanitation products with vendors and wage workers to minimize the spread of the virus.

6.Zuly Mejías Recanatini (Venezuela)
Helping people see the brighter side of things

A poster in spanish

In addition to the physical effects of the COVID-19 virus, there has also been a significant psychosocial impact. In Venezuela, for example, many children and young people have been negatively affected by the social distancing rules, with the isolation causing and amplifying anxiety, depression and other stress reactions. In order to offer them the tools to cope, Otro Enfoque (Another Approach), a Venezuelan organization, launched Pronoia, a virtual platform that offers psychosocial support, on March 27, 2020, 10 days after the beginning of the quarantine.

“Pronoia [refers to] the belief that the world conspires in our favor, as opposed to paranoia”, explains Zuly Mejías Recanatini, a member of the organization. “[We used it] to motivate people to believe in this concept in the midst of this adverse situation and thus lessen the sense of collective uncertainty that it is present in many homes”.

With the creation of this platform, they also aimed to to circumvent physical limitations and inequalities, offering most of their services online, but also providing telephone and SMS support for those with little or no internet access.Through their personalized support, virtual psychosocial support course and videos, support kit, daily challenges / activities and group chat features, Otro Enfoque has been able to support many families during this difficult time. Between March 27th and May 5th, Pronoia had 5,490 visits from users in Venezuela, Colombia, and the United States, among others.

7.Dhruv Pai (USA)
Students giving back

Druv Pai infront of a poster of American Red Cross

Since the age of 10, giving back to his community has been a passion and an integral part of Dhruv Pai’s life, and the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic did not slow him down. During the last few months, he has been involved in voluntary efforts on two fronts: leading Teens Helping Seniors, his newly formed volunteer group, and being a brand ambassador for Arts-n-STEM4Hearts. Dhruv founded ‘Teens Helping Seniors’, a teen run volunteer group, in Maryland, USA in early March 2020 in order to deliver groceries and essential services to older and immunocompromised people during the COVID crisis. After seeing how his grandparents’ fear of contracting the virus prevented them from getting essential supplies, Dhruv and a friend decided to help them and other struggling seniors in the area. Today, Teens Helping Seniors has 23 chapters in 15 American states, over 500 volunteers and have made over 900 deliveries, providing services on a daily basis. They have even expanded their work to assist people with various disabilities and financial constraints. Through his work as a brand ambassador for Arts-n-STEM4Hearts, he has also been distributing PPE and “bags of love” kits to health care workers, as well as delivering art activity kits to nursing home residents to help them deal with social isolation and loneliness. For his work, Dhruv was selected as a hero of the community by Maryland Senator Bill Ferguson and Congressman Jamie Raskin and received the Presidential Volunteer Service Award.

Druv wearing a mask and gloves, holding two grocery bags

8.Amani-Institute ASBL (Congo)
Navigating multiple crises

With the spread of the Coronavirus across the African continent, many fear for east of the Democratic Republic of Congo, a region that has seen much violence and armed conflict over the last few decades. In an effort to address the intersecting health, humanitarian and violent crises in the region, the Amani-Institute ASBL, a local organization, has launched an initiative called “Tupone wote” (Heal Together in Lingala), aiming to protect the most vulnerable members of society from community violence, armed groups and hunger.

“As the Coronavirus pandemic surprised us,” explains Joseph Tsongo, the organization’s CEO “it was necessary to set up a dynamic of community mobilization as a matter of urgency in particular to deal with Coronavirus and its effects, but without leaving anyone behind”.

The initiative focuses on raising awareness and building community through various channels, notably through the integration of safety messages into radio programming, public awareness campaigns (posters, public announcements), and distribution of soap, PPE and groceries to vulnerable citizens. They also have been sharing books to youths in order to keep them occupied and away from the lure of armed groups.

“We live in a region already weakened by armed conflicts and community violence and where the Coronavirus is one more misfortune”, continues Joseph. “Here, people almost no longer trust the authorities or the humanitarian agencies because they think that they are at the base of their misfortune by targeting their own interests. At least we were sure that the people would listen to us because we still have their trust. (…) Without any support from outside, we estimate in particular that our initiative must have covered more than 50,000 people in the province of North Kivu”.

9.Stephen Ogweno (Kenya)
Looking out for at-risk neighbors

Stephen Ogweno is the 24-year-old CEO and founder of Stowelink Inc, a youth led organization in Kenya that makes information and diagnostic services on non-communicable diseases (NCDs) available to all. Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, they have been working with communities of people living with non-communicable diseases like cancer, diabetes and heart diseases to ensure that they receive relevant information on how to stay healthy amidst this crisis while also ensuring that they receive regular clinical checkups. They developed a brochure that was used to create awareness to 500 people living with NCDs in the villages within Vihiga County and translated the information into local languages. They have also been working with with Vihiga County government officials to support 4 local hospitals with diagnostic services for citizens living with NCDs and have been able to safely reopen weekly NCD clinics.

10.Hasan Awad /ActionAid Palestine (Occupied Palestinian Territories)
Empowering youth to support their communities

group of volunteers infront of a warehouse

Palestinian youths are often excluded from decision-making spaces related to the distribution of (or access to) the resources necessary to design, implement and monitor interventions focused on, or which have an impact on youth. Through its “Civil Society and Democratic Participation of Palestinian youth” programme, ActionAid Palestine (AAP) has been supporting the meaningful participation of Palestinian young people to take part in both the response to COVID-19 pandemic and broader democratic participation. Through this programme, AAP aims to empower young people to form and lead networks and strengthen their capacity to mobilize and advocate but also manage essential resources that can help in the fight against the spread of the coronavirus. Hasan Awad in one such young person. Hasan is a young nurse and youth activist living in Khalet Al-Mayya, a village situated in the Hebron Governorate. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Hasan has been using his skills to test residents and Palestinian laborers returning from their work in Israel for the virus. Through work with the government, specifically local councils, he has also been helping to deliver food, supplies, medicine and share information to help mitigate the outbreak. Additionally, as a member of several AAP-supported youth groups, Hassan has been working with national and international organizations to mobilize funds to support infected families.

“Participating in emergency response actions has enhanced my skills and improved my self-education about this disease to be able to deliver awareness sessions”, he explains. “It also enhanced my networking skills with relevant and active organization”. Hasan’s example shows how ready and able youth are to have their voices heard in a significant way. “Young people are eager to put their energy and time in the service of tackling this pandemic and delivering a better future”, he adds.

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, and help us to remember that we’re all in this together.

Thank you for being a part of this series. Stay Safe and Stay Healthy where ever you are!

Written by Jayathma Wickramanayake and Christian Detchou

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UN Youth Envoy. Advisor and Representative of the UN Secretary-General. Youngest Senior Official ever to be appointed by the UN. TIME 100 Next.

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Jayathma Wickramanayake

Jayathma Wickramanayake

UN Youth Envoy. Advisor and Representative of the UN Secretary-General. Youngest Senior Official ever to be appointed by the UN. TIME 100 Next.

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