Youth in Action During the COVID-19 Pandemic

With over 90,000 confirmed cases and over 2,800 deaths in Africa, the COVID-19 pandemic drastically changed the Youth In Action grassroots initiatives that are geared towards promoting peace and sustainable development in communities. The youth however have been taking gallant steps and are involved in initiatives to help cushion their communities from the health and economic effects of the pandemic.

Country Synopsis
In Tanzania, youth leaders have invested more time on awareness creation during this time of COVID-19. They have been encouraging their communities to practice social distancing, hand washing and self-isolation. They are also working with the local government and community based organizations on offering psychosocial support to the affected. Youth leaders have also been actively engaged in social media campaigns and awareness on the pandemic. Read more about their interventions here.

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In Somalia, youth leaders, who are part of the Women Alliance for Peace and Humanity in the country, and pioneers of Siraad Initiative, are raising awareness on COVID-19 among women, especially those living in camps and settlement areas. They have also donated hygiene materials for the women to help them during the pandemic. The youth have also sensitized the women on how to use online spaces like WhatsApp in sharing information about COVID-19. They are also producing short awareness videos on the pandemic to be shared with the women and on online spaces.

In Kenya, a group of 30 youths, drawn from the Youth Peace Club of Mukuru, Nairobi, in partnership with Oxfam have been enrolling families through the telecommunications service provider, Safaricom, to have access to a bar soap for safe hand washing and hygiene. This initiative was introduced after the youth realized that the COVID-19 economic crisis was worsening especially after the government restrictions. Youth leaders took up the initiative in order to attend to the hygiene needs of the residents of Mukuru slums; thus reducing the spread of the disease. So far, over 500 families have benefited from this programme.

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In addition, youth leaders from Lamukani Youth Forum in the Coast of Kenya have been mobilizing fellow youth to locally manufacture liquid soap and distribute to families to enable them wash hands regularly and thus prevent contracting and spreading the disease. While distributing the soap, the youth have also been raising awareness about the pandemic and safety measures that the community can take to stay safe.

Semi-Arid Health Initiative and Silver Lining Ltd, both youth-led groups from Northern Kenya, are similarly working collaboratively to raise awareness about safety measures during the pandemic. The youth have been working closely with the Ministry of Health, local authorities and religious leaders to amplify their message and reach more people in the community. Their work has also had a deliberate focus on people living in refugee camps in Garissa, given that the region hosts the largest refugee camp in the country and the East African region.

In Uganda, youth leaders through Action For Fundamental Change and Development (AFFCAD), came up with a relief programme to fundraise and buy essentials to donate to families in the informal settlement of Bwaise, Uganda, most of whom have lost their sources of income as a result of the pandemic. The youth have also been collecting stories from members of the community about the effects of the pandemic on their lives. They are currently compiling the stories, which will be used to raise awareness and funding. Read more about their interventions.

The Impact of the Pandemic on PeaceBuilding
Youth In Action’s core role is promoting peace through interventions aimed at preventing, countering and transforming violent extremism. They have been addressing this through advocacy, raising awareness, trainings and online campaigns. With restrictions on movement and gatherings in most of their communities brought by the pandemic, the efforts by the youth have been hampered. The pandemic is similarly invisibly aggravating domestic violence thus threatening the existence of peace in the communities.

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As a result of the economic hardship brought about by the effects of the pandemic, Fredrick Shija, a youth leader from GNRC–Tanzania asserts that, “focus has been on fighting the common enemy, thus attention on violent extremism and building peace as part of promoting the global goal number 16 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) have been twisted to survive against the pandemic.” In most countries of the developing world, a surge in cases of domestic violence especially in the rural areas has been on the rise. Youth In Action ambassadors have been encouraging authorities to tackle violence against children and women equally even as they fight the COVID-19 pandemic. In Mukuru slums for example, the youth have been spreading messages of peace through murals as well as through bulk Short Message Service system, availed by GNRC partner (Fellowship of Christian Churches in the Great Lakes and Horn of Africa, FECCLAHHA); to relay information on such cases of violence.

#ILeadPeace Online Campaign
Since the inception of Youth In Action, the youth have been running the campaign, aimed at building peace by spreading the messages of peace within the online spaces as well as promoting the Youth In Action brand online. With the outbreak of COVID-19, much attention within the online spaces has shifted to addressing the pandemic thus less attention given to other issues including peacebuilding. To this end, the campaign has suffered in terms of its visibility online and targeting online messages on peacebuilding without having to relate it to COVID-19.

In light of this, the youth have been aligning their online messaging to COVID-19 to peace. Fredrick Shija from Tanzania has been writing articles and designing social media posters that share information on how the pandemic has affected progress on SDGs especially SDG 16 on peace, justice and strong institutions. The rest of the youth leaders have been finding ways to make online messaging relevant to both peacebuilding and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Youth In Action at a Glance
Youth In Action is a network of young peacebuilders, comprising of youth and young influencers from 12 countries in the Horn of Africa and East Africa Region. They include: Burundi, Djibouti, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Kenya, Rwanda, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda. Youth In Action also refers to the annual youth leaders’ regional forum. Through the forum, the youth enhance their leadership skills and knowledge, while tackling pertinent matters on peacebuilding and conflict transformation.

Youth In Action (both the network and its regional forum) was established by Arigatou International — End Child Poverty Nairobi in 2016 in partnership with Norwegian Church Aid (NCA) and other nested partners.

The network was established mainly to empower young people to lead peace and promote justice, inclusion, and social cohesion. The approach employed by Arigatou International – End Child Poverty includes dialogue, training, mentorship, learning and exchange visits, case studies and research. Read more about the campaign here.