Working with and for young people to fight COVID-19

Working with and for young people to fight COVID-19

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Young people are  seriously affected by COVID-19 and are part of the global response in Cameroon. This guidance article from Cameroon Link is meant to assist humanitarian actors, youth-led organisations, and young people across sectors, working at local community and health district levels, in their response to the new coronavirus pandemic affected. It begins diagnostically, exploring the impacts of COVID-19 on young people. It then proposes a series of actions that practitioners and young people can take to ensure that COVID-19 preparedness, response plans, and actions are youth-inclusive and youth-focused — with and for young people.

The global crisis has exacerbated existing vulnerabilities and inequalities experienced by young people, all further amplified in humanitarian contexts where fragility, conflict, and emergencies have undermined institutional capacity and limited access to services. Impacts are outlined in the areas of health, safety and protection, finances, and civic space and participation. To cite a few examples:

  • Many young people do not have adequate levels of health literacy to enable them to gain access to, understand, and use information in ways that protect their health and well-being. Health literacy includes the timely recognition of the need for health or other services, the ability to seek advice and care, the ability to navigate complicated health systems, and the skills to critically assess health-related information like detecting misleading or inaccurate online information. Lack of life-saving information in accessible formats like videos with closed captioning and sign language puts young people with disabilities at higher risk.
  • In the midst of the large-scale interruption of learning, including non-formal and informal learning, due to school closures around the country, large numbers of young people do not have regular and affordable internet access and often fall behind as learning and participation shift to online platforms.
  • The government is invoking executive powers and calling for measures such as lockdowns, quarantines, and increased surveillance in response to COVID-19. In the absence of sunset provisions, civic space often contract and freedoms of assembly, privacy, and expression have become negatively affected, silencing young people’s calls for change. Moreover, these restrictions leave young peace-builders and human rights and environmental defenders less protected against attacks and threats.

However, as reported here, in spite of the multiple impacts of COVID-19, many adolescents and youth have mobilised to respond to the crisis. Young people are disseminating accurate information on COVID-19, tackling myths and stigma, policing fake news, and supporting information-sharing programmes on risk reduction, national preparedness, and response efforts. Young people are at the forefront of finding new ways to communicate with the government authorities, mass media, medical services, and their communities through channels such as the radio, WhatsApp, text message, social media, and videoconferencing platforms. Young people are also helping to mitigate the impact and consequences of the crisis in the longer term, including by engaging around issues such as promoting social cohesion and countering hate speech, xenophobia, human rights violations, and violence, and by building strong and inclusive initiatives. Through social media, they are finding ways to remotely check on, and support, others’ mental health.

Cameroon Link recommendations are structured around 5 key actions:

  1. Services:
    • Health: Ensure that COVID-19 response plans are sensitive to adolescent- and youth-specific healthcare needs, including sexual and reproductive health (SRH), mental health, and psychosocial support. This involves ensuring that healthcare providers, support staff, and community health workers to respect, protect, and fulfill adolescents’ and young people’s rights to information, privacy, confidentiality, and non-discrimination in a non-judgmental and respectful manner. Additional safeguards are needed to ensure that confidentiality is not compromised in situations of restricted mobility.
    • Water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH): Ensure that young people have access to water supply for drinking and personal hygiene, sanitation services, handwashing facilities with soap, and menstrual health management (MHM) supplies. This may include supporting youth local networks and young people to lead and engage in hygiene promotion activities to encourage handwashing with soap and other behaviours to prevent the spread of infection.
    • Education: Support continued learning for young people, including migrants, refugees, and displaced young people. New methods, such as remote coaching or mentoring, may need to be designed that cover life skills, comprehensive sexuality education (CSE), and theoretical content, to keep young people engaged until they return to school. Teahers should be trained in online safety and behaviour.
    • Protection: Ensure the protection of young people in COVID-19 prevention and mitigation measures, coordinate closely with adolescent SRH actors, and ensure that practitioners are trained in youth-friendly communication techniques and basic response to gender-based violence (GBV), along with issues related to adolescent girls, such as child marriage. Promoting information sharing with and by young people on available protection and care services like hotlines, referral pathways, etc. and how to access them should be advised.
    • Livelihoods, cash, and markets: Young people should be train on how to cope with the financial impact they are likely to experience as a result of the COVID 19 pandemic, and mentor them.
  2. Participation:
    • Maintain connections with young people and youth organisations in local networks, considering solutions that do not accrue costs related to data and/or making sure content is produced in a low-resolution format, while also considering the relative sensitivity of various platforms to hacking, trolling, or other types of online abuse.
    • Encourage inclusive information-sharing that is accessible online and offline, considering barriers to access that young people living with disabilities may face.
    • Actively engage young people in responses to COVID-19 as health workers, advocates, volunteers, scientists, social entrepreneurs, and innovators.
    • Engage young people, including the most marginalised, in assessing the impact of COVID-19 on their communities and in monitoring and evaluating COVID-19 responses.
    • Tackle the spread of inaccurate information, debunk myths, and confront stigma by linking youth leaders and youth-led organisations to the media to amplify their voices and better address fake news and stigma, training them to give good interviews.
    • Support access to youth-friendly content, and work with young people to develop content like collaborating with artists, social media influencers, or other figures popular among young people to spread reliable information in creative ways.
    • Apply the “do no harm” approach, and ensure safe and ethical participation of young people at all times.
  3. Capacity:
    • Build the capacity of, and support, youth-led organizations, particularly those engaging marginalised youth, including young refugees and internally displaced young people living in informal urban settlements and slums to: engage in COVID-19 response coordination with other humanitarian actors, access funding, and design and deliver programmes. Pull together capacity-building resources and deliver them remotely, including possibly using local radio/flyers and low-resolution content. Ensure the following topics are covered in capacity-building materials:
      • Effective communication skills and basic information on human, refugee, and migrant rights as they relate to the ongoing pandemic;
      • How to counter common misconceptions, rumours, and myths spread offline and online, and how to combat xenophobia, stigma, and discrimination associated with COVID-19; and
      • How to be a responsible online citizen, including the basics of online safety and incident-reporting pathways.
    • Build the capacity of government officials, United Nations agencies, and civil society organisations (CSOs) leading response and coordination efforts for the meaningful engagement of youth.
  4. Resources:
    • Fund the COVID-19 mitigation initiatives of youth-led organisations, including young women’s collectives, and ensure that funding streams are reliable, transparent, sustained, and flexible.
    • Advocate for the inclusion of young people in coordination mechanisms where funding decisions are made.
    • Co-design programmes and proposals with adolescent and youth groups and, where possible, include a budget for their projects in agency budgets.
  5. Data:
    • Generate and share data disaggregated by age, sex, and disability on who is using health services, accessing communication materials, participating in learning activities, and asking for and receiving GBV support.
    • Support adolescent- and youth-led and community-driven monitoring and accountability of COVID-19 responses by collecting, collating, and disseminating data on positive actions being taken by young people around the world to tackle COVID-19.

James Achanyi-Fontem is the CEO of Cameroon Link, a registered charity, not-for-profit organisation involved in the promotion of community health, humanitarian assistance, promotion of women and child rights through involvement of communities in Cameroon for mother and child health care. He is also Farm Radio International’s local networker in Cameroon, supporting radio stations to address COVID-19. 

James Achanyi-Fontem worked as a health journalist and broadcaster for 30 years with Radio Cameroon and later Cameroon Radio Television, CRTV before retiring in 2005 to engage fully with Cameroon Link.

Read more from Cameroon Link:

Role of Community Radio Stations in the Fight with COVID 19

Combating Rumours and Misinformation on COVID 19

Photo: Young men in Ghana. Credit Jesse Winter, Farm Radio International.

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