Resilience & Sustainability: Pause, reflect and re-think

Some learnings and actions from the 10to19 Dasra Adolescents Collaborative during these trying times. Read to know more about what is upcoming.

Resilience & Sustainability: Pause, reflect and re-think

Shailja Mehta

“2020 was the year we lost, and 2021 is the year of losses.”

This comment has stayed with me ever since I first heard it during a webinar, about a month ago.

While nobody expected the first wave last year, so few were prepared for the second surge this year. The pandemic has been hard on everyone, but especially the vulnerable and those living in rural and remote parts of the country. It has exposed deep inequalities in our country and across the globe, and pushed those who were already struggling into further marginalisation.

Amid this catastrophe, thousands of civil society organisations have tried to show resilience and do their best to respond to the crisis, even as they’ve struggled with their own financial health and the physical health of their employees. At Dasra, we reached out to around 40 organizations to get a sense of how they have been affected as they take on this challenge. Of these, 71% have been hit financially and 67% said that their several of their staff and families were directly affected by Covid-19. Further, in the communities these organisation serve, most families have lost their livelihoods, many have lost their loved ones, and it seems like children and youth’s futures have indefinitely been put on hold. The losses have been grim and gruesome.

Even before the second surge struck us, we’d heard about its possibility. Yet, we did so little to prepare for it, though there is no denying that we were busy responding to the first wave and its aftereffects to the best of our abilities. The government and our health sector was definitely not prepared, however, nor was the civil society equipped for 2021.

However, even in the face of this, we have seen most of the organisations in the sector change gears to respond to the crisis, and almost immediately. The compulsions we’re facing as a sector to act and respond are very real and much required. However, what is also required is for us to take a pause, reflect and rethink our course of actions and strategies.

For us at Dasra, too, this has been a learning. If I would be honest, the 10to19 Dasra Adolescents Collaborative spent February and March planning for 2021-2022. We of course kept in mind the impact of the 2020 pandemic and the course corrections we had adopted last year as we were planning for the new financial year. Little did we know then though that come April, and everything would be put on hold to pivot and respond to the crisis, almost exclusively. We did though take the opportunity of a two-week-long organisation-wide break to pause, reflect and rethink our priorities for the year.

Since then, we have made a few attempts to bring together nonprofit organisations to share challenges, struggles, and create a space to openly share, listen and learn. Through state and national level Communities of Practice with a focus on adolescent well-being, as well as through another conversation with a few organisations across the country with varied focus and demographic interests, we’ve heard about

  • The impact of limited on-ground activities: Projects have either been cancelled or indefinitely put in hold until it’s safer for ground staff and communities to engage with each other in person.

  • The inability of organisations to support the communities: Due to restriction on mobility and funding, organisations are unable to support their communities to tackle the pandemic like they would want to.

  • The significant shifts in funding: Due to an urgent need to address Covid related awareness and health concerns, several existing projects and core areas of work have taken a back seat.

  • The years of development that have been reversed: Experts fear that a lot of behaviorual change efforts have been reversed and efforts made towards girl child education and delaying age of marriage undone significantly.

  • The lack of clarity on long-term strategic and organizational goals: Organisations are unclear of how to plan for the medium-to-long term given the impact of the pandemic on the country.

The conversations have highlighted not only several key priority areas, but also the need to build bridges with other civil society organisations for a coordinated and shared response to protect and support our communities. As we navigate the rest of the year, and plan our strategies for the next few years, it is imperative to think about the resilience and sustainability of the civil society to mitigate the long-term impact of Covid-19 and in pursuit of a sustainable development. 

 

Living in a Pandemic: Youth and their Emotions

Along with our partner Love Matters India, the 10to19 Collaborative organized a youth consultation with 50+ young people to understand the impact of COVID-19 on them

Living in a Pandemic: Youth and their Emotions

Brief Overview

The 10to19 Dasra Adolescents Collaborative (DAC)1 and EnterChange Innovations (ECI)2 organized a youth consultation with 50+ persons on 10 June, 2021 with a view to understand the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the youth. ECI is a youth engagement partner for DAC, and is a leading organization that engages youth on matters of sexual and reproductive health and sexual rights.

The objective of this youth consultation was to bring together young voices on one platform, to hear directly from them about their challenges and needs amid a global pandemic, and to learn how are they dealing with their mental health in these stressful times. The conversations though were particularly broken down into two areas — Understanding the emotions that the youth are going through and the coping mechanisms they’ve adopted to deal with them; and understanding their concerns and questions that have stemmed from the living in the pandemic.

Key Highlights

 

Based on the discussions and activities, it was understood that the youth are primarily feeling and shifting between four emotions:

  • Boredom due to lack of engagement with peers or opportunities to go out

  • Anger to the lack of control over the situation

  • Anxiety due to lack of clarity about the future

  • Despair due to lack of hope for a bright future

Based on a survey carried out during the seminar with the participants, about 67% of the youth accepted to be suffering from grief & pessimistic thoughts about their future or what it will bring for them. As many as 64% of the participants said that they were feeling regularly stressed due to the pandemic, and 55% mentioned that they were not feeling happy since the pandemic entered India.

Evidently, interruption of education, loss of family income, lack of clarity about the future, increased in domestic abuse and forced child labour were the key stressors for the young people, besides of course the direct impact of the virus on people’s health.

These direct and indirect consequences of the pandemic has also left the young with several questions about the virus, the vaccine, their families and their future. Some of the key concern areas for the youth were found to be around (See annexure for a complete list of questions):

  1. The spread of the virus and the possibility of a third wave

  2. The efficacy of the available vaccines and myths around it

  3. The support provided by the government for families who have lost their loved ones or livelihood in the pandemic

  4. The roadmap to their aspirations and futures

1 10to19: Dasra Adolescents Collaborative is a high-impact platform that unites funders, technical experts, the government and social organizations to reach five million adolescents, and move the needle on four outcomes key to adolescent empowerment.
2 ECI is Indias leading digital Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) information platform catering to the needs of young people. It provides open, honest, non-judgmental and science-based information on love, sex and relationships using innovate media formats.

Discussion on Dealing with Emotions

In such times, it has been thus hard for young people to keep themselves motivated or in positive spirits, yet, many of them shared activities that they engage in to keep their spirits afloat, and their ideas around what can young people do to deal with their feelings better

Anxiety:

  • Initially, when the country was under a lockdown, the youth participants relied on their personal smartphones or their family smartphones to watch videos and multimedia content to relive stress and pass time.

  • Later, when times were slightly better and allowed small group gatherings, youth engaged in group activities and sports such as sewing, embroidery, cooking, dancing, singing and football.

  • As the young people understood each other’s challenges better, especially those with respect to interruption of education, some of them started each other through peer-to-peer learning. This not only helped them revise or impart their skills, but also kept them occupied while giving them a short-term purpose to wake up every morning.

  • Another commonly heard response from the participants was around setting a daily routine to keep themselves motivated.

  • The participants also mentioned that they realised that for them to feel positive, it was also important that their families felt positive, so they made efforts to engage the parents and siblings in various activities.

Boredom

  • To overcome boredom, the participants said that they engaged in reading story books, listening to songs and picking up individual-based activities such as applying henna or cooking their favourite dishes.

  • Many of them claimed that they utilised the time to recognise their skills and hobbies towards craft making, painting and furnishing.

  • A few others said that regular physical activities such as sports, running, exercising kept them going, while many others used the time to pick up on indoor skills such as sewing or tutoring other children in the community.

  • All through though, WhatsApp and other mobile apps, remained a key tool to engage with friends and family to deal with the loneliness.

  • Most of the participants accepted that their creative instincts helped them keep themselves in a positive mood, and also allowed them to infuse positivity in others around them.

Anger

  • When the lockdown was announced, several families were struck by sudden loss of income, which meant fewer resources to provide food for the family. This was a major stressor, and led to frequent chaos and arguments in the house. The youth felt especially helpless, and so they initially turned to music and movies, often meditative or inspiration, to control their emotions, and then found solace in activities like yoga and exercise to channel their negative energy.

  • Young people also found escape in social media and participated in trends to feel excitement.

  • Setting a routine and agenda for the day, also helped a lot of youth participants to channel their energy into the right things, without becoming the cause of anger for anyone else too.

Despair

  • Fear of the disease, lack of medical facilities and uncertainty about the future were major reasons for despair among the participants. To deal with this, students tried to participate in various webinar or peer-to-peer learning activities. They picked up new skills and tried to share it with others around them.

  • Other than that, painting, reading books were also common ideas from the participants around dealing with despair.

  • The participants almost unanimously agreed that talking to their peers, accepting the situation and providing mutual support infused hope and positivity in them.

Next Steps

  • As next steps, the 10to19 Dasra Adolescents Collaborative has planned a series of similar consultations with young people across urban, peri-urban, rural geographies to understand their challenges and their needs but to also address their questions and concerns about their present and their futures.

  • An easy-to-reference document based on the questions and concerns received from these sessions will be shared back with the participants for what

  • Based on the learnings collated through our consultations, and other engagements, a charter of action will be co-created with key stakeholders to provide an action pathway for supporting young people out of the COVID crisis. 

  • We will be establishing a Youth Working Group, to provide their perspectives on challenges and solutions for immediate and longer-term COVID responses focused on adolescents & youth. 

  • We are also leveraging social and traditional media to raise the adolescent perspective in the mainstream narrative around COVID and beyond. 

Annexure: Key Concerns Raised by Young People

Having heard from the participants about their feelings and their approaches to dealing with their mental health in these stressful times, the session also provided them with an opportunity to share their questions with DAC. These questions, which ranged from personal and family to the virus and role of the government, were able to capture broadly what the young people are thinking, what are their concerns, what are the myths that they’ve heard and what do they need from the stakeholders that support them.

 

At the 10to19 Dasra Adolescents Collaborative, we hope to pick up some of the pressing questions and collate answers/recommendations to them over a series of engagements with them and other stakeholders. We also want to use of these questions and suggestion from the young people and take it to the government.

Corona virus and the vaccine

  • When will Covid end?

  • Why are young children, who’ve not even stepped out of their houses, getting infected?

  • What medicines should be taken if you have early signs of the virus?

  • When a person dies of corona, why are the relatives not allowed to see the body?

  • Last year, the doctors, nurses and police were more helpful during the lockdown. Why has that changed this time around?

  • What is the actual count of Corona deaths?

  • Corona has been almost completely controlled in many countries, so why has India not been able to control it?

  • Why are people dying of the virus in hospitals, but not at homes?

  • If the breadwinner of a family dies of the virus, will the government provide any financial or other support?

  • When will Covid end? Are the vaccines safe?

  • Some countries have single-dose vaccines, why don’t we have them in India?

  • Why are people dying after taking the first dose of the vaccine?

  • Is it true that one vaccine is more effective than the other?

  • How long does the vaccine’s effect last?

  • Why does India not have more effective vaccines like some of the other countries?

  • If one is not effected by the virus, why does the person need to take the vaccine?

  • Why do some people report of fever and body ache after taking the vaccine?

  • Can you take the vaccine if you’re on your period?

  • How will everyone be prepared to get the vaccine?

  • Is there a third wave coming, and why?

  • What arrangements have been made for the potential third wave of the virus?

Everyday Life and Concerns for the Future

  • When will be able to go back to the normal?

  • Will schools reopen if the third wave is coming?

  • This corona has destroyed everyone’s future. So what is the future for them?

  • The virus has led to inflation. How will this get better?

  • During an election period, the government does not impose any lockdown or follow Covid precautions. But when it comes to opening schools and colleges, they use the excuse of the virus. Don’t children have a future? When will schools and colleges reopen?

  • How will we earn if there is no work?

  • Is it true that if a person does not take the vaccine, they will not be allowed any government facilities?

  • Do we not need to go to the doctor if the Covid report comes negative?

  • Even a conversation about the virus leads to stress, how can we deal with it?

  • Why is the government not addressing unemployment in its state?

  • Will the students who have been promoted without giving an exam, be able to prepare themselves for the next exam?

  • Can people who were working in another state, return to work?

  • Will the government address the issue of missed opportunities for the young or compensate for the two lost years?

  • Will we be able to get jobs after this interruption to our education?

  • If online education systems are faulty or biased towards those with access, how will we learn anything?

  • Why are liquor stores open but schools closed?

Suggestions for government and institutions

  • Many children have been forced to drop out of schools, especially those without mobile phones or the Internet. The government should do something to address this.

  • The government should ensure the young have employment opportunities across the country.

  • With the Board exams cancelled, the institutions should come up with an alternative to assess their preparation and knowledge.

  • Inflation has affected all aspects of life, including access to medicines and food. This should be addressed.

  • The government should pay attention to the falling GDP and mitigate its impact on people.

Challenges from the ground in Jharkhand during COVID-19

The conversation highlighted not only several key priority areas, but also the need for a coordinated and shared response from stakeholders across the sector and the need for further attention to be paid to organizations facing the brunt of the pandemic at the grassroots.

Challenges from the ground in Jharkhand during COVID-19

Why we came together

This is an extremely difficult time that we are facing personally, in the communities we work with and in our organizations. We this realization, the 10to19 Dasra Adolescents Collaborate felt the responsibility to resonate the need for connection, coordination, and camaraderie.

Following the first meeting of key non-profit organizations coming together to share their experiences, the Collaborative also saw the need for a more targeted conversation to understand the on-ground scenario in the state of Jharkhand. Our local community-based organizations in Jharkhand have played a key role in the responding to the needs of communities in Jharkhand and continue to remain a critical part of the Collaborative.

Given that the second wave has had an especially devastating effect on states like Jharkhand, this free-flowing, no-agenda session was a space where we could manage some of the isolation and helplessness all of us are feeling currently, with the hope that coming together, and sharing would help us better understand our role in responding to the impact of these times on the people and communities we serve.

Participants

The Jharkhand community of practice meet was attended by 12 organizations from Jharkhand, each of whom shared their current organizational responses and experiences of the pandemic

Dream a Dream

NEEDS

Jan Lok Kalyan Parishad

Plan India

Jan Sarokar

Pragati Educational Academy

Jharkhand Gramin Vikas Trust, Dhanbad

Prerna Bharti

LJK Lohardaga

Sahayogini Ho

Nav Bharat Jagriti Kendra, Hazaribagh

SWADESH Organization

Key Highlights and Learnings

The session began with a set of polls to gauge the actual impact of the pandemic on organizational health, staff and programs. Results of the polls indicated that while some organizations have had flexibility and support from funders, all organizations have been able to put in place adequate mechanisms for supporting their staff during this time. Most organizations were in the process of or had already made shifts in their programs and strategies to address the pandemic, and a majority of them felt that there would be a medium to long-term impact of the pandemic on their programs and core mission values.

Organization Level Impact: 

Further discussion also opened up the floor to organizations to share their experiences of how the second wave has impacted them. 

  • Impact on Staff: Team members and families were getting affected by Covid, to respond to this, organizations took a pause to support members through this time. 

  • Impact from funding shifts: Funding cuts from FCRA/CSR have impacted organizations in different ways, including scaling back of program as well as number of staff.  However, most organizations have repurposed current funding to Covid response and funders have been supportive of this. 

  • Lack of mobility: Travel restrictions have affected organizational work and many have pivoted to using WhatsApp as a way to engage with communities.

These challenges are also accompanied by the continually developing situation on the ground. 

Community Level Impact : 

Partners also shared several key issues that are currently affecting the communities they work with, that included:

  • Increase impact on vulnerable groups: Rise in child marriage, limited access to education as well as mental health issues have been the biggest challenges for young people and adolescents.  Health systems have been disrupted specifically maternal, child and adolescent health as all health infrastructure is Covid focused.

  • Reverse migration and loss of livelihood:  Restricted mobility for migrant workers due to discontinuation of the Jharkhand e-pass as well as reverse migration has led to loss of income & livelihoods. 

  • Vaccine hesitancy and myths: Vaccine hesitancy is on the rise due to lack of awareness, myths and fear (from a few reported deaths) There is high degree of misinformation and lack of awareness about Covid and Covid appropriate behaviors. In rural areas, people are likely to be treated by unqualified doctors which may lead to further complications. 

Emerging Need Areas: 

Partners further shared some priority need areas that require to be addressed in response to the evolving Covid situation on ground  

  • Focus on education: An urgent and immediate response to gap in education services needs to be addressed. As students have been out of school for a year, there is a serious gap in learning which will impact in the long term.

  • Building awareness and busting myths:  It is important to drive the uptake of vaccination by building awareness and addressing hesitancy and myths that continue to circulate. This is specifically true for the rural and remote locations. 

  • Need for medical infrastructure: Rural areas have limited medical facilities which can provide timely care and response. With the anticipation of a third wave, it is essential to bridge this gap of missing infrastructure to address this to prevent rise of third wave in rural areas.

  • Policy response: There is a need to strengthen the state disaster management policy, and create a cadre of staff that can respond to Covid waves.  

  • Focus on Mental Health: Scalable solutions to address mental health issues and isolation among young people is needed

  • Further investment into girls and delivery of health and nutrition services especially now as funds are getting diverted to Covid.

Next Steps

This session was a first step towards understanding the many challenges that the sector and our partners are currently facing, in light of the second wave. All participants expressed the importance of such forums and consultations with a view of combining efforts, encouraging cross learnings and sharing to address the key needs of communities. 

The conversation highlighted not only several key priority areas, but also the need for a coordinated and shared response from stakeholders across the sector and the need for further attention to be paid to organizations facing the brunt of the pandemic at the grassroots. 

It is clear that we will need to continue pushing to prioritize the well-being of each other and the communities we serve, and to ensure that the conversation is open to and highlights the perspectives of vulnerable communities and populations. 

 

The Collaborative will continue this series of consultations with various stakeholder groups, including members of our 10to19 National Community of Practice. Our next consultations will be held on Tuesday, June 1st and Thursday, June 3rd, and will be open to all.

DAC National CoP Consultations

The two consultations with NGOs across the nation
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.

DAC National CoP Consultations

Summary

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.

Participants

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.

APCO Worldwide

Lok Jagriti Kendra

Badlao Foundation

Lok Swar

BKS

Love Matters India / Development Consortium

Bridgespan

Mahila Mukti Sanstha

Centre for Unfolding Learning Potentials (CULP)

Medha

Centre for Youth and Social Development

Micro Enterprises & Sustainable Project

Child in Need Institute

NEEDS

CHS

Onkar Seva Sansthan

CorStone

Pilchu Sewa Sansthan

Ekjut

Piramal Swasthya

EngenderHealth

Population Foundation of India

Feminist Approach to Technology

Porticus

Foundation for Education and Development

Pratigya

Gram Nehru Yuva Trust

Quest Alliance

Humana People to People India

Rastriya Jharkhand Seva Sanathan

Izad

Rupayani

Jago Foundation

Rural Development Institute, Himalayan Institute Hospital Trust

Jan Lok Kalyan Parishad

Sahyogini

Jharkhand Gramin Vikas Trust

Snehalaya

Jharkhand Mahila Uthan

Swadesh

Jhpiego

The Naz Foundation India Trust

Lend A Hand India

Urja Trust

Vacha Trust (Mumbai)

Key Highlights and Learnings

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.

Voices of Young People and their Needs

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.

Education

  • 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.

  • In families where there is one digital device and more than one child, the son’s online education is prioritised over the girls’. Further, with education put on hold or completely stopped, several young girls have been pushed into early marriages

Livelihood

  • 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.

Health

  • 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.

Mental Health

  • 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.

Voices of the Civil Society & their Challenges

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.

Covid Response and Relief

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.

Consolidated Efforts

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.

Key Priorities and Next Steps

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

To hear directly from more young people, Dasra is organising a series of consultations with young people, starting June. One such consultation, with 50 young people in Jharkhand, was hosted earlier this month. In these session, young people shared their experiences and concerns from the pandemic and shared coping mechanisms that have helped them navigate the stressful times- with a focused discussion on mental health, education & livelihood. Dasra has planned for four more of these consultation, with young people across India, over the next few months.

If you would like to nominate young people for any of the upcoming sessions, please reach out to us at

 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.

Annexure: Poll Results

10to19 Friends & Partners on challenges in the community during COVID-19

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.

10to19 Friends & Partners on challenges in the community during COVID-19

Objective

This is an extremely difficult time that we are facing personally, in the communities we work with and in our organizations. We this realization, the 10to19 Dasra Adolescents Collaborate felt the responsibility to resonate the need for connection, coordination, and camaraderie. Thus, the Friends & Partners Meet on May 19, 2021 was a first step in this direction — to bring together some 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.

The objective of this free-flowing, no-agenda session was simply to create a space where we could manage some of the isolation and helplessness all of us are feeling currently, with the hope that coming together, and sharing would help us better understand our role in responding to the impact of these times on the people and communities we serve.

Participants

The Friends and Partners Meet was attended by 12 organizations from across the country 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.

Key Highlights and Learnings

This session was an opportunity for attending organizations to share their experiences of the ongoing crisis and to share, openly, the various challenges that they are currently facing. The session began with initial series of polls with the organizations highlighted 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 below: 

Additionally, key themes that emerged from the conversations include:

Organizational Challenges:

  • Limited on-ground mobility: The imposition of new lockdowns and rising cases have meant that field staff is no longer able to visit communities to gauge the on-ground scenario or ensure programs continue to be delivered. They are also unable to support communities through the growing fear and anxiety as the situation further compounds.
  • The lack of strategic clarity: Organizations shared that emergency responses resulted in a loss of clarity for long-term strategic and organizational goals. Existing projects have been paused and for many, core areas of work – such as SRHR – have taken a backseat to immediate on-ground relief efforts. 
  • The impact on organizational staff: Particularly for those organizations conducting immediate relief efforts, the toll of the past few weeks has been immediate and intense. Team members are facing immense pressure of responding to the situation while themselves dealing with illnesses and grief caused by Covid. This has had a significant impact on their mental well-being, and has required organizations to respond proactively and with compassion towards their own employees.

Challenges on the ground:

  • The need for medical support: The most urgent emerging issue is the lack of medical resources and support particularly in remote and rural communities. These areas are unable to rely on existing public healthcare systems and are disconnected from social media, which has been critical to providing relief supplies at the last mile.  
  • The impact of the pandemic on vulnerable groups: Marginalized or vulnerable communities were and continue to be disproportionately impacted by the pandemic as well as by lockdowns and income loss. Women and girls have also lost access to safe spaces and community support, as well as access to education. They are also experiencing the significant mental toll of isolation, along with anxiety, and, in many cases, grief of the loss of a loved one.  
  • Income loss and poverty: Organizations have also noted an increase in reverse migration and loss of employment among communities that they serve, which has plunged many young people and their families into poverty. As a result, they are also anticipating a rise in cases of malnutrition and anemia. 
  • Disruption of on-ground services: Service provision at the last mile continues to be a challenge. Particularly in rural areas, organizations shared that frontline workers and teachers were among those affected. They are therefore unable to provide essential last-mile services and remain unable to address newer emerging issues such as vaccine hesitancy either. 
  • Lack of accurate data and evidence: Several organizations also stated that there is no clear picture of the current on-ground situation — the impact of Covid on health and the impact of the pandemic on other aspects of life — making it difficult to gauge and analyze the full impact of the second wave on communities. 
  • Vaccine awareness and access: Access to and awareness of the vaccine is limited on the ground. Vaccine hesitancy is prominent and even those who are willing to get vaccinated are often unable to access it due to limited and inaccessible supply. While one organization began a vaccine drive, the uptake continues to remain slow, especially in rural and remote areas. 
  • Possibility of a third wave: While organizations are responding to the immediate on-ground situation, they are also trying to plan for a third wave, anticipated later this year. They are unsure how to account for it, ensuring that they incorporate learnings and lessons from the current situation as well as keep a long-term view on youth-focused indicators. 
  • Providing and ensuring the availability of medical support in rural and remote areas
  • Ensuring consistent and ongoing investment into health, nutrition, particularly for young women and girls 
  • Identifying sustainable and scalable solutions to address mental and emotional health, both for communities and for organizations
  • Centering youth voices to understand how the situation will evolve
  • Collecting data from the field, to understand the impact of the crisis on communities and to replan priorities
  • Pushing for investments to provide technological and infrastructural support, especially for rural communities, to address growing challenges in spaces such as education, healthcare provision and employability
  • Amplifying and listening to young people
  • Addressing mental health and well-being
  • Articulating a collaborative response to the pandemic 
  • Re-thinking sector priorities for the long and short term
  • Breaking the digital divide

Needs and Future Priorities 

Based on the insights from the conversations, the following areas have emerged as being critical needs in the months to come, including:

Organizations also highlighted the value of these conversations through platforms like the Friends & Partners Meet, sharing themes and issues that would continue to remain relevant in the future, and would benefit from similar open conversations in the future. These issues ranged from immediate to longer-term goals, focusing on engaging young people and equipping them to survive the pandemic, to understanding where the sector is moving and identifying priority areas. Other key themes include: 

Next Steps

This session was a first step towards understanding the many challenges that the sector and our partners 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. 

It is clear that we will need to continue pushing to prioritize the well-being of each other and the communities we serve. We will also explore how to better utilize this space and come together again to further discuss the critical themes that emerged from this initial discussion. Meanwhile, the Collaborative will continue this series of consultations with various stakeholder groups, including members of our 10to19 Community of Practice. Our next consultations will be held on Tuesday, June 1st and Thursday, June 3rd, and will be open to all.