Youth on the frontline against COVID-19

In the time of Coronavirus, young people have organised to support their communities and to prevent COVID-19 from spreading.

In Cameroon, Achalake Christian, the coordinator of Local Youth Corner, has launched the “One Person, One Sanitizer” operation to prevent the spread of coronavirus, especially among the poor. He’s working with young people to produce and distribute free, homemade hand sanitizers using World Health Organization standards. He has teamed up with local people, the coalition of youth civil society organizations, medical doctors, pharmacists and a laboratory scientist.

“We have assembled a team of six young experts and turned our office into a laboratory where we are working three days a week, producing 1,000 sanitizers a day. We aim to distribute over 25,000 bottles, particularly to communities who do not have access to clean water,” Achalake explained. “Youth activism cannot go into lockdown at a time of need.”

As Uganda intensifies the fight against COVID-19, rumours and false information about how to avoid catching the virus are spreading fast. However, many young people are leading the way for communities across the country – including a young musician from the Karamoja district called Airjay, who lost full use of his sight when he was three months old.

“While I am blind in both eyes, I can feel the pandemonium that this pandemic has caused in my community, and to help, I am raising my voice, in the form of songs of awareness to contribute towards the Government’s efforts to keep us safe,” Airjay says. He has recorded two new songs, “COVID-19” and “Corona”.

In “COVID-19”, he shares advice on hand washing, social distancing and sanitizing, and appeals to local organisations to support members of the community to access soap and hand sanitizers as many cannot afford them.

In “Corona”, he sings about how Karamojongs have suffered many disasters in the past including droughts, famine, and more recently locust invasion. He appeals to security forces not to make brutality yet another one.

Based on the concept of mutual aid, which relies on communities working together to ensure each other’s wellbeing, Wevyn Muganda, an activist and writer, and Suhayl Omar, a community organizer, journalist and student, founded Mutual Aid Kenya to provide aid to vulnerable people who are not properly assisted by government systems.

When the first case of COVID-19 was discovered in Kenya, Wevyn began engaging in digital advocacy, making sure that her fellow Kenyans were well informed of the potential risks and solutions. When it became more apparent that several members of the population were ill-prepared and ill-supported, she and Suhayl knew they had to do more, and the two began working together, leading to the creation of Mutual Aid Kenya.

Due to the current situation in Syria, many experts are concerned about its ability to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic as it reaches more and more countries. In a push to supplement struggling official responses, many civil society groups have taken it upon themselves to ensure that Syrians are prepared for COVID-19. Dana Shubat has been lending herself to this effort. She participated in a mask and hand sanitizers distribution campaign that took place in the 10 days leading up to the quarantine. In addition to this, she has taken to her social media to provide correct information and sources to the public, posting over 100 times a day on various pages and profiles.

Currently, Dana is using the knowledge that she has gained as a medical student to support engineers who are designing medical supplies to be 3D printed to help fill the gaps in the country’s health care system. She is also providing support to special needs students via WhatsApp, continuing her role as a volunteer for the Special Olympics. Dana’s work extends even further still. She has been translating COVID-19 manuals into Arabic and has joined the Young Sustainable Impact (YSI) Program 19, an innovation program aiming to solve problems related to the COVID-19 crisis.

In Botswana, Pretty Thogo is coordinating a platform that brings together the World Bank Africa Youth Transforming Africa initiative and the Youth Alliance for Leadership and Development in Africa which are organizing regular roundtables for youth to discuss development, and spark some youth-grown solutions to influence policymaking in Africa. During its first online roundtable in April, the initiative featured medical and communications experts, and helped young Africans to learn more about COVID-19 and how to identify trusted sources of information.

Five Oxford students in the UK are part of a global group of Zimbabwean students and young professionals who have founded the Zimbabwe Covid-19 Support Hub.  They are postgraduates originally from Zimbabwe.  They collect and share information from authoritative sources, including accurate health advice, government information on the spread of the virus in Zimbabwe, and government measures. The website also collates details about how to access and support community-based projects, and the organisations to contact for assistance.

The website states: “We are a group of Zimbabwean professionals and researchers in the diaspora. We all have family and friends in the country. We are living through COVID-19 in other countries, but are deeply concerned about the threat of the virus to Zimbabweans. Zimbabwe faces challenges of poverty, a weakened public health system, high rates of HIV-AIDS and other underlying medical conditions, food insecurity, unemployment and fiscal instability that make the COVID-19 threat to Zimbabwe particularly severe.”

Soap and water are among the most powerful weapons to fight the coronavirus. In Haiti, Scout groups are working to support the country to combat the spread of this virus. As many communities struggle to access clean water and information on the virus, the Scouts have been traveling to and around the capital, Port-au-Prince, to reach out to people directly. Drawing people to them by singing catchy songs made to highlight preventive measures and symptoms, the Scouts have been carrying around portable sinks and installing hand-washing stations to help give Haitians more alternatives to contaminated water sources. These Scouts hope that these measures will help combat the spread of the virus and encourage people to be aware of the measures that they can take to help save lives.

(C.C.)