The last year and a half has been hard on everyone. People are feeling isolated, deserted and lost. And it’s no different for adolescents and young people. However, what makes it harder for them in a lot of ways is that there aren’t enough people to hear them out. This has pushed them into a state of despair and hopelessness.
At Dasra Adolescents Collaborative (DAC), we have been able to understand this from our interactions with young people over the last couple of months. Between mid- May and now, we’ve spoken to nearly 200 young people from rural and remote parts of Jharkhand, Bihar, Rajasthan and a few other states about the impact of Covid-19 on their lives, the disruption it has caused, and how they are coping with it. Through these sessions with the young people, we have heard that a lot of them are shifting between emotions such as:
Boredom due to lack of engagement with peers or opportunities to go out
Anger due to lack of control over the situation and the consequences
Anxiety due to lack of clarity about the future
Despair due to lack of hope for a bright future
Young people are worried about the opportunities they have lost and may continue to lose over the next few months or even years with the devastating long term effects on the economy; there is fear about the continued spread of the virus, it’s variants and the possibility of a third wave; there are myths, rumours and misinformation about the efficacy and availability of the vaccine; and there is disappointment towards the government in how they’ve handled the situation in some parts of the country.
India’s young people are not alone in struggling with these feelings and fears. Globally, the pandemic has been extremely harsh on young people. According to the UNICEF Annual Report 2020, released last month, 1 in 7 children and young people has lived under stay-at-home policies for most of 2020.
At least 1 in 3 schoolchildren has been unable to access remote learning while their schools were closed. Around 10 million additional child marriages may occur before the end of the decade. Disruptions in food systems and health and nutrition services could leave 44 million children hungry. As many as 142 million additional children were estimated to fall into monetary poverty by the end of 2020 and lack access to social protection.
This avalanche of data points should not scare us, but it should worry us. Unfortunately, the pandemic and its consequences have had financial, physical, social, emotional and psychological impact on the lives of young people. Even as they struggle with these emotions, they feel left out from conversations and decision making processes that impact their lives. We as community members and development practitioners can support young people through the challenges they’re faced with.
While it is true that practitioners who have been in the sector for a time long may rightly feel that we know what’s best for them. We must ask ourselves what could be the value add of hearing from young people themselves what’s best for them? What harm would it do if we heard directly from them on their challenges, needs and aspirations? Maybe what we hear from them validates what we already knew, but maybe there is something new that we hear or something that we hadn’t thought about.
As a nation and sector that talks about the strength and the need for investment in our large young population, we must also trust them to make decisions for themselves, and ensure that we create and hold platforms and safe spaces for them to voice their opinions. There is an urgent to engage with young people and allow them to speak their minds freely. We need to create safe spaces for them where they can raise their concern, feel heard and have their queries answered.
This has been part of our learning at DAC too, over the last few years. Every year, we are taking a step forward to be more inclusive and engage with young people in a meaningful way. The Ab Meri Baari campaign, which started in 2019, was the first step in that direction. Since then, we’ve come a long way; and the pandemic, especially, has made it even more crucial for us to ensure that young people have platforms to share their views, to get answers to their questions and that we, at DAC, involve them when we make decisions that may impact their lives. Keeping this ethos in mind, this year we’ve committed to establishing a Young People Working Group, to include their perspectives on challenges and solutions for DAC’s immediate and longer-term COVID responses. Keeping young people’s voices at the core of programming is more vital now than ever before, as they have the deepest understanding of their own needs and challenges, and can support in identifying and executing the most effective solutions to address these as we focus on rebuilding a more hopeful world for young people.