Youth leading way in pandemic

Youth leading way in pandemic

Every day, while engaging with youths across the Asia Pacific, I witness their tremendous resilience in coping with the challenges of their daily lives while at the same time supporting their communities in facing the Covid-19 pandemic.

Often, I am struck by the selfless courage these young frontline responders demonstrate when managing the delicate balance between the safety of their own families and the service to the wider society.

Ei Ei Thein Myint Linn, a 26-year-old youth volunteer from the Myanmar Red Cross Society, contacted the headquarters of Myanmar Red Cross as soon the first case of Covid-19 was detected in the country. She immediately felt she had to act and be helpful.

She told me that every evening when she returned home, she could clearly see fear and concern in her parents' eyes. The whole day she has been driving around the province carrying boxes of face-masks, face-shields, aprons, personal hygiene kits with hand-soap, sanitising gel and information material for the community. Every evening, she took off her shoes and rushed directly to her room, took a bath and washed all her clothes.

Since the outbreak of Covid-19, thousands of Red Cross Red Crescent youth volunteers right across the Asia Pacific have been following the same call as Ms Ei Ei. Those who cannot serve directly in their local communities, have become digital volunteers at home, doing a wide range of valuable work, from translating information material in all languages spoken in their country to promoting well-being.

The volunteers have been making all sorts of innovative contributions, such as recording Qi-Gong exercise and meditation videos to building the personal resilience of people in isolation. I have been inspired by how these volunteers have been finding ways to fight this pandemic, tirelessly meeting the needs of their communities.

In their everyday actions, these young volunteers are the local drivers of the United Nation's Sustainable Development Goals. It's a universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet and promote peace and prosperity by 2030.

The transformative power of volunteering sits at the centre of these goals, as do the next generation volunteers now emerging to meet today's crisis. It is not only what volunteers do that matters, but the way they do it -- their dedication and their belief in the power of humanity as a potent agent of change.

Just as our young volunteers are committing themselves to support our communities, we must commit to their safety and security, which should include both physical and emotional support. This well-being support is critical in these difficult times of isolation and uncertainty, especially for young people.

Being a young person often means being in constant struggle to get control and clarity about our present and future. When such control is abruptly taken away and every plan becomes unsure, doubts and anxieties that may be already present in the challenging process of growing are suddenly magnified. This is the moment in which peer-support and social connection become even more essential and the need for a purpose more pressing.

Several activities implemented by the Red Cross and Red Crescent youth in the region are focused on being connected with peers and mentors in safe spaces where we can share concerns and learn to identify resources and aspirations which can guide us in overcoming adversities.

One of the mottoes adopted by our Southeast Asia Youth Network during this Covid-19 pandemic is "Physical Distancing AND Social Solidarity", in order to underline how both elements are vital to maintaining a healthy society.

A healthy society is one in which young volunteers who are distributing protective items are seen as role models and not stigmatised as potential carriers of the virus. A society in which social media is used to spread verified information, and not fear and mistrust. Where youth volunteers gathering in online communities think, first and foremost, of their peers who do not have access to technology and maybe even more excluded.

A society in which all students who have been at home for a very long time will return to school once the structures reopen. A society in which young people who were approaching the labour market will find safe and decent employment and will not be obliged to turn to illegal or self-harming solutions to sustain their families.

Such a society is and will be closer at hand, when the transformative power of the youth is fully applied on all organisations and institutions at all levels. Because young people are not just tomorrow's leaders, they are today's greatest resource.

Francesca Capoluongo is Youth Delegate for Asean, International Federation of Red Cross and Crescent Societies. Her article coincides with World Youth Day that was celebrated earlier this week.

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