Last year, the Covid-19 lockdown greatly impacted vulnerable populations, stranding thousands of migrants far from home, interrupting education for millions of children, and limiting access to non-COVID healthcare including SRHR services for adolescent and young people who faced difficult in accessing menstrual hygiene products or contraceptives. This year, with the second surge and a deadly virus strain, these problems have been aggravated for communities as they grapple with another year of the lockdown. With this realization, the 10to19 Dasra Adolescents Collaborative felt the responsibility to resonate the need for connection, coordination, and camaraderie. Thus, hosting a series of consultations titled ‘Voices from the Ground’ was a first step in this direction — to bring together nonprofit organizations as a community and network, in a virtual space, to share challenges, struggles, and create a space to openly share, listen and learn in an effort to better understand our role in responding to the impact of these times. These conversations have helped unpack the challenges and gaps that organizations are facing amid the second surge of the Covid-19 pandemic in India and address the isolation a lot of organizations are facing in these difficult times by allowing them to come together as a community to lean on and learn from each other. The consultations offer a key opportunity to hear from other organizations to understand the range of approaches that have been followed and share learnigns too. Through this series of conversations, organizations have highlighted education, SRHR, mental health, vaccine hesitancy and livelihood as areas to focus on in the wake of Covid-19. For various organisations, the pandemic has meant reduced funding or repurposing of funding to focus on Covid relief while putting their core programs as usual on hold. On-ground engagement and communication with the communities they serve as been almost completely impacted. As organisations are trying innovate or navigate these issues, they’re also working to make sure they are supporting the physical and mental health of their own employees. Many are worried that these two years of the pandemic will reverse years of human development in India. As organisations make shifts in their medium-to-long-term strategies to address these, they are also actively looking to learn from each other. With this realisations, the 10to19 Dasra Adolescents Collaborative remains committed to creating a collaborative space of knowledge, supporting organisations in amplifying and disseminating learnings, including voices of adolescents and young people and document scalable solutions.
On June 1 and 3, 2021, Dasra organised voluntary virtual meetings with its National Communities of Communities of Practice. The National CoP Meet was attended by 45 organizations from across the country — across two sessions — with varied focus and demographic interests, who also shared with each other how are they currently responding to the ongoing second surge of the pandemic.
Lok Jagriti Kendra
Love Matters India / Development Consortium
Mahila Mukti Sanstha
Centre for Unfolding Learning Potentials (CULP)
Centre for Youth and Social Development
Micro Enterprises & Sustainable Project
Child in Need Institute
Onkar Seva Sansthan
Pilchu Sewa Sansthan
Population Foundation of India
Feminist Approach to Technology
Foundation for Education and Development
Gram Nehru Yuva Trust
Humana People to People India
Rastriya Jharkhand Seva Sanathan
Rural Development Institute, Himalayan Institute Hospital Trust
Jan Lok Kalyan Parishad
Jharkhand Gramin Vikas Trust
Jharkhand Mahila Uthan
The Naz Foundation India Trust
Lend A Hand India
Vacha Trust (Mumbai)
The two sessions in early June were opportunity for organizations to share their experiences of the ongoing crisis and to share, openly, the various challenges that they and their communities are currently facing.
The session began with initial series of polls with the participants highlighting the stark reality of organizational and financial health in the current scenario. The polls revealed that organizations have put in place mechanisms for flexibility to ensure their employees are being supported, and have been encouraged by funders to do so. They have also had to significantly pivot their ongoing programs and a majority of attendees feel that they will be grappling with the consequences of COVID on their programs for up to 12 months. Details of the poll results can be seen in the Annexure, Questions 1-5.
The consultation, which also saw participation from 15+ young people, was able to hear from them directly about the key challenges and impact of the pandemic they’re facing.
A pause on education due to various reasons, ranging from poor infrastructure and resources for virtual learning to shift in priorities for family decision makers, has impacted learning opportunities for young people. Meanwhile, lack of Internet access or capacity to afford smartphone and data have pushed many students to put a hold on their education.
Since the cancellation of Class XII Board exams, students are clueless and unable to apply for jobs and higher education or plan for their future.
Students fear at the end of the pandemic, many young people would be forced out of educational institutions to fend for their families. Many others have already been forced into picking up odd-jobs.
The two years of the pandemic has meant job loss for a lot of families, resulting in financial implications. This has affected families’ ability to feed themselves, leading to hunger and undernourishment.
Most health care centres and workers have shifted their focus to tackle Covid-19. This has impacted young people’s access to other health care services.
With the markets and schools closed, and household income affected, young girls are unable to access menstrual hygiene products and are being forced to return to cloth pads.
Families that have been affected by Covid have struggled to obtain medical supplies or have had to resort to black markets for essential drugs.
With the surge in death rate across the country, some families who have lost their loved ones
to the pandemic have had to pay bribes to bury or cremate them.
There is vaccine hesitancy among young people due to rumours and fear-mongering of the vaccine leading to new illnesses, disorders or event death. Those that understand the benefits of the vaccine are struggling to convince their parents or grandparents to take the vaccine.
The pandemic and its impact on various aspects of life for young people has greatly impacted their morale and mental health. Young people are struggling emotionally, mentally and psychologically, and have access to few outlets or resources to help them in this period.
Lack of education and nutritious food, along with the impact on mental health, has pushed a lot of young people in certain geographies into drugs.
With restrictions on movement, young people are unable to pursue their passion, hobbies, other vocations or unable to engage with their peers.
The lockdowns and Covid precautions have restricted on-ground operations for a lot of NGOs. This has created a void for young people, who relied on them for various basic facilities and support. Further, there is a fear among young people and their families about the possibility of a third-wave.
Resonating with these challenges, the participating organisations shared from their own experiences what they’ve been hearing from young people in their respective communities and how they are tackling some of these issues amid the pandemic. Lack of sufficient access to SRHR and education services, anxiousness about the future and increasing rates of child marriages seemed like recurring issues across the geographies during the pandemic, and the organisations acknowledge that these have been exacerbated during the second surge.
The organisations also shared a few organisational challenges and programmatic challenges that they’re facing, which hinder their engagement with young people. Some of them have been articulated below:
Limitations of technology: Access to digital infrastructure is a challenge in rural and remote locations, which has affected several services especially education for young people. At the same time, while most of the community engagements have shifted to WhatsApp, it’s hard to have private and confidential conversations over tech platforms with young people, as it’s still a new medium of interaction for many and often requires mediation and frequent troubleshoot.
Years of efforts undone: Organisations are devastated about the fact that the pandemic hit undo on years of development efforts in 2020, and has now taken steps further back on behaviour changes that communities and civil society organisations had come to celebrate.
Limitations on funding: While most organisations have able to negotiate with their funders who’ve shown agility and flexibility in responding to the pandemic, there are still limited funds to address a crisis this large. This limits the scope of the organisations to engage in Covid relief and response, where certain services are prioritised over others (for example, ration and sanitary napkins are prioritised over contraceptives and iron tablets). On the other hand, for a lot of organisations, most of the funding has been diverted to Covid relief, leaving them with little resources to address other critical issues.
Government prioritisation of Covid-19: Given the nature of the pandemic, the local governments have had to prioritise Covid response across its institutions and services. These means that almost all officials are engaged in Covid relief and response with little or no time to address other issues.
As the civil society has been largely quick to make pivots or plan for pivots, they have also made several intermediate efforts to quickly support their communities with Covid relief or response, especially to respond to the needs of the young people and their families.
While some organisations have set up help desks to facilitate access to health care or distribute ration, others have rolled out awareness drives to promote Covid-safety precautions and bust vaccination myths and hesitancy.
Some of the other efforts have been more focussed on education — ranging from setting up community learning centres and mobile libraries Since gender and mental health have been key priorities for organisations with a youth-focus agenda, several of them are taking various steps to address these — through awareness workshops and training drives on MHM, local pad banks and efforts to make young people feel heard. Some of the organisations have even been able to showcase best practices by working with the government to identify and support vulnerable children and adolescents.
While most of these efforts are short-term to address the ongoing pandemic, the organisations feel there is a greater shift required to enable organisations to pivot for the medium to long term.
The National Meet was not a lone effort to hear from the civil society but a follow-up to a Jharkhand state-level consultation that Dasra organised on May 21, 2021. At this consultation too, we heard of similar challenges that organisations are facing. At the organisation level, health of staff has been affected in the pandemic, and travel restrictions and Covid precautions have made communication with communities difficult. There have also been funding cuts or repurposing of the funds to respond to the Covid crisis. At the community level Impact, marginalised and vulnerable communities have been pushed into further marginalisation and vulnerability, particularly due to the loss of livelihood, and vaccine hesitancy remains a behavioural issue. You can read more about the Jharkhand CoP meet here. These consultations are part of the larger action plan that DAC has put in place to respond to the situation. However, we hope that these conversations will help DAC build a charter of recommendations for the government as well as for other key stakeholders.
This National and State-Level CoP Meets were steps towards understanding the many challenges that the sector and our country’s young people are currently facing, in light of the second wave. The conversation highlighted not only several key priority areas, but also the need for a coordinated and shared response from stakeholders across the sector to ensure that we are able to protect and support our communities.
Based on the conversations between organisations and young people, the following have emerged as key priorities for youth-facing organisations (see Annexure, Questions 6):
Mental health among young people
Education for young people
SRHR for adolescent girls
Livelihood and well-being
How to engage with young people
We also heard from the organisation about their interest in engaging in more such conversations around young people and their communities (see Annexure, Questions 7-8). Thus, as we move forward, here is how Dasra hopes to leverage the power of the community:
Invite Collaborations: Invite organizations, networks or initiatives to partner with us to include the civil society for their perspectives and feedback so that any material we create has the input of practitioners serving the most vulnerable.
Amplify and Disseminate: Exchange useful efforts with this group of organizations and campaigns, and create a match-making efforts to facilitate an efficient way of mutual sharing that will be valuable to all.
Engage Adolescents and Young People: In everything we do, we hope to include and centre the needs, perspectives and inputs from young people themselves. We are in the process of bringing together a set of young people to form our working group to review and steer our efforts. We also hope to continually incorporate the participation of young people from partner NGOs to have their representation. We look forward to having you help us through this process and recommend adolescents and young people to include in this group.
Document Systems Change and Scaling Solutions and Failures: Through the above, we hope to also document certain efforts that are working on systems change or best practices and models that could scale. This is a time of innovating and working in an unrelenting environment and we are aware that there will be many challenges and pitfalls. These are equally important to understand, track and share learnings from.