Written by Lesedi Senamele Matlala
The novel coronavirus has affected almost every aspect of life for all classes within society, leading to the public health importance and the economic and social consequences. Nevertheless, people of all ages feel its effect in various ways. This pandemic presents major risks in areas like schooling, housing, mental health and the availability of jobs, particularly for young people at risk. However, in all sorts of emergencies and periods of crisis from climate change to armed conflict or political instability, youth and youth-led organisations have been willing to take initiative and respond to their needs and of others. For instance, organisations such as Search played an important role in mobilizing youth leaders who helped control and responded to Ebola virus outbreaks by addressing the disparity in confidence between government and local populations in Western Africa and the Democratic Republic of Congo. That is the case with the COVID-19 pandemic today. Youth-led organisations such as Reimagining Society and others around the world have obviously been active in promoting and leading by example the response to COVID-19. In South Africa Youth-led organisations, such as Equal Education , were influential in paying attention to school policy reactions and their effect on young people. Other youth-led initiatives that have been working very hard to respond to the COVID-19 crisis in South Africa involve, Kliptown Youth Programme, Afrika Tikkun, and Amandla Development.
Despite their enormous role, these organisations faced several obstacles before this endemic; to mention but few, access to funding, training, infrastructure and links to other youth organizations and development actors. Moreover, their efforts and positions in the societal sphere are exceedingly restricted owing to adverse legal structures, poor economic standards and various discriminatory activities. As a consequence, their participation in the civic sphere is casual and not yet well documented. It is therefore important to explore ways into which these youth groups can be engage more efficiently and fully particularly during emergency crisis. More importantly, this blogs argues that if these youth-led organisations are being consulted and engaged effectively, in some of the ways they can contribute in the creation of a more sustainable community even during and post COVID-19.
Socio-economic Effects of COVID-19 on Youth:
First and foremost, it is of importance to elaborate further on the effects of this pandemic on youth in order for us to understand the roles and importance of these youth-led organisations. In countries where employment is predominantly informal and low, COVID-19 put huge pressure on already vulnerable populations; with worries that starvation may cause more suffering than the virus itself (United Nations Report, 2020). Unfortunately, youth are a major part of this vulnerable population. Young people are more likely to be affected by the disruptions the pandemic has caused by being left behind in education, health, wellbeing, and economic opportunities during this critical stage of their personal development. Young people are most likely to be affected by the high unemployment the pandemic will cause making them vulnerable to provide social protection. The pandemic and economic recession may further fuel stigma and discrimination against certain groups of young people, which in turn would further exclude them from accessing healthcare and maintaining their livelihoods. In the same vein, young people are at the forefront in responding to the pandemic crisis through volunteering, public health promotion and innovation. Considering young people form a key element of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), it will be instructive to hear their voices and understand the role there can play in the fight against the pandemic (Kori ,2020).
Photograph by Tony Carr
To drive the message of governments especially to all the various communities of the state, it will be helpful to have frontline youth-led organizations at the forefront of communicating the messages to all and championing programs tailored towards awareness. Such organizations can easily attract volunteers. Moreover, as actors positioned in diverse communities, youth and youth organisations also form part of the frontline of communication and leading the struggle against the pandemic and its socio- economic consequences through championing programs tailored towards awareness, dialogue and volunteering. Youth is also an important resource in community outreach in this crisis and can often work in areas where governments or the international community cannot reach, thus making this group a vital partner.
The inclusion of youth-led organizations amid COVID-19:
In order to establish a new post- pandemic standard, governments and international organisations must have a clear choice, either revert to systems that promote youth inclusive participation or improve the capacity of young people to develop trust among cultures and organizations, support vulnerable groups and prevent violence. These blog summarizes below three main reasons why youth inclusion is important for effectively fighting against COVID-19.
Youth-led organisations are specialists in their own experiences - Young and Youth-led organisations are specialists in their own experience and the realities of being youth. They understand the impact of COVID-19 on youth people more than anyone else. Thus, their expertise needs to be authentically valued in during this global health crisis. In this regard these youth-led organisations should collaborate with governments and different agencies to battle against the pandemic and they should be considered as equal partners not merely as beneficiaries of government policies.
Tackling misinformation on COVID-19 – Misinformation about the coronavirus could cost lives during this dangerous period of uncertainty. It is why young people and youth-led organisations around the world look to web platforms and digital networks to share relevant facts and suggestions to knock down common misconceptions. For example, youth-led organisations launched the international campaign #youthagainstcovid19 to map and share myth-busting, fact-checking websites and resources. The Ndlovu Youth Choir of South Africa has also been using performance arts to dissipate the Coronavirus misconception and disinformation.
Coordinating awareness initiatives in local communities – Youth-led organisations are best placed to lead local responses. They are already working within communities and have the trust, credibility and networks to slow the pandemic. For instance, when asked about the long-term implications of the COVID-19 pandemic, surveyed youth-led organisations from OECD countries expressed greatest concerns about the well-being of the elderly. A similar picture emerges when the views of youth-led organisations in non-OECD countries are considered.
This blog has highlighted several key areas in which youth-led organisations should be included in response to COVID-19 and, more importantly, to the social, political and economic impact it will have on the globe. Moreover, it also important that COVID-19 response should comprise emergency measures that also meet the needs of youth and long-term structural change that enable them to become more resilient to future crises in their communities. For this to happen, government action and mechanisms should be established to facilitate a coordinated, organized and effective engagement of young people in the fight against this pandemic. Above all, youth-led initiatives should acknowledge their crucial position in the battle against the COVID 19 pandemic, being aware that the virus's dissemination is a threat to lives, human standards and peace and growth.
Written by Lesedi Senamele Matlala. He is a Global Wellbeing Envoy of Reimagining Society from South Africa. Edited by MD Talebur Islam Rupom, Co-founder and Strategic Executive Director, Reimagining Society