Here’s how youth in Africa are creating rapid responses to COVID-19

In Africa, experts are warning that fragile systems could be overwhelmed

But, in the midst of this, youth are innovating. 

Youth are identifying the challenges and needs in their communities, and moving rapidly to address them to get ahead of the pandemic as it hits the continent. 

At Digital Opportunity Trust, we’re seeing inspiring and hopeful examples in our network of more than 6,000 youth. 

Youth know what is most needed in their communities; they have the ability to adapt and respond quickly to an emerging crisis situation; and youth in DOT’s network have the digital skills, gender equality, and facilitation knowledge necessary to rapidly intervene where their communities need it most. 

UNHCR agrees: they recommend that one of the primary tactics to combat the spread of the virus in vulnerable communities must be to engage local youth and youth networks

We believe in the power of youth. At DOT, we’re launching the #DOTYouth Street Team: a coordinated support network for youth in Africa and the Middle East who are responding to COVID-19 with needs-based interventions. Apply to join the #DOTYouth Street Team here.

In a time of crisis, we are astounded and inspired by the ingenuity of young people. 

Learn about the #DOTYouth Street Team and how you can support youth-led COVID-19 responses.

Here are 4 ways youth are moving fast to support their communities through a global pandemic:

Distributing soap in slums and vulnerable communities

Mike Oyola lives in the Kawangware Slum in Nairobi, Kenya, where access to safe water, sanitation, and safe housing puts members of his densely populated community at a high risk of contracting the virus. Mike, who holds a degree in community health and development, has started to distribute soap and water to households. “I buy this with my own money,” Mike shares. “We can’t do anything about the overpopulation here. Quarantine is not likely to work because people need to eat. So what we can do is focus on sanitation.”

A similar initiative has been set up by Davis Waidhulo in Uganda, who has mobilized a group of 10 youth who are going door-to-door in the community of Jinja to share updated health information about COVID-19. Davis is the founder of the Mutai Development Initiative, a community-based organization that has partnered with 22 hospitals, 33 schools, and more than 160 volunteers to tackle issues like food security and training healthcare workers. Davis shares that the most pressing issue in Jinja is a complete lack of soap available to the community. He’s now trying to find ways to create supply chains of soap and critical sanitation products into his community. 

In vulnerable communities like the Kawangware Slum and Jinja where healthcare services are weak and stretched thin, prevention and inclusion must be at the heart of the response. Unstable supply chains, healthcare worker shortages, a lack of space, shelter, soap, and clean water prevent people from accessing diagnostic testing, medical care, and adequate sanitation.

Engaging teams of youth to rapidly share up-to-date information in a refugee camp

In Uganda, Olivier Nkunzurwanda runs the Refugee Innovation Centre in the Rwamwanja Refugee Settlement, which is home to nearly 70,000 refugees. Olivier first created the Refugee Innovation Centre to find a meaningful activity for fellow youth in the camp, offering entrepreneurship and digital skills training. Now, he’s working with 15 young people to go door-to-door and provide up-to-date information about COVID-19 and how families can protect themselves, as well as to get community members to join WhatsApp groups on their mobile phones so they can quickly receive emerging information. Olivier and his team are also creating songs and videos that they distribute through the WhatsApp groups, and engage youth in the community to creatively spread the word about how to prevent the spread of COVID-19. 

A Coronavirus outbreak in a refugee camp would place extraordinary strain on fragile and overstretched healthcare services, and UNHCR, the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the World Health Organization, and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies are recommending that one of the primary tactics to combat the spread of the virus in camp settings will be to engage local youth, community volunteers, and local networks like youth groups as trusted communication channels.

Creating support networks for women in crisis

Catherine Kamau in Nairobi, Kenya has created an initiative called Vijana Tustawi (“Youth Thrive” in Swahili) where she and three of her peers are creating mental health support networks through Facebook for young women who are struggling to cope with stress and uncertainty in this time of crisis. “Quarantine is a challenge for women, especially pregnant women and new mums. It is not easy to get the support they need with quarantine measures, and going to hospital for essential checkups and immunizations for children is scary right now,” Catherine shares. Through the digital networks they are creating for women, Catherine and her team are finding ways to counsel and support women through their fears and anxieties. 

This is especially important during a pandemic: COVID-19 is a gendered international crisis. UN Women states that the economic impacts of COVID-19 will hit women harder, as more women work in low-paying, insecure, and informal jobs. Disruptions, self-isolation, quarantine, and movement restrictions are likely to compromise women’s ability to make a living and meet their families’ basic needs; it also means that risks of domestic violence increase, access to education decreases, and access to sexual and reproductive health is limited.

Inclusive education for out-of-school students

Kelvin Guma runs the SAIDE Community Library in Vihiga, Kenya which provides free learning to local children. Working with 15 schools, Kevin provides reading hours, digital literacy programs, and community outreach. With schools in Kenya closed for quarantine, Kelvin has set up a makeshift video recording studio at the library, so now teachers can come to the library to deliver lessons on Facebook Live and YouTube for students. Kelvin and his team have reached out to more than 400 families to ensure they’re aware of this resource, and currently three teachers are livestreaming daily mathematics, chemistry, and English classes. 

In Tanzania, George Akilimali is providing free access to high quality learning content to teachers and students through his app, Kisomo SmartLearn. With global education initiatives opening a floodgate of free content to support out-of-school students during quarantine, George is filling the need for high quality digital education in local languages like Swahili and Bantu. 

UNESCO estimates that 87% of the world’s student population is affected by school closures. This means that the world will see unequal access to digital learning opportunities and interrupted learning – particularly for under-privileged learners who tend to have fewer educational opportunities beyond school. As the world scales up distance learning practices, UNESCO is calling for coordinated and innovative action to focus on inclusion and equity to make sure that students with limited internet access, diverse language skills, and accessibility needs are not left behind.

To learn more about how Digital Opportunity Trust is supporting youth who are developing solutions to the COVID-19 pandemic, visit: DOT Launches #DOTYouth Street Team to tackle COVID-19

Digital Opportunity Trust’s #DOTYouth Street Team is a COVID-19 rapid response initiative supported by the Mastercard Foundation and the Government of Canada through Global Affairs Canada.

Are you our next Community Leader, Digital Champion, or Social Innovator? Learn more about how to join #DOTYouth

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