With a decade to go towards the realization of the sustainable development agenda through its seventeen goals, young people have been increasingly taking the lead in tackling myriad global challenges such as promoting climate action, sustaining peace, addressing inequalities, and now responding to COVID-19. A recent global online survey titled ‘Youth & COVID-19‘ carried out by the Global Initiative on Decent Jobs for Youth found that one out of six young people are probably affected by anxiety or depression, and that risk levels for those whose education or work has been disrupted almost double. Young people want to help but they overwhelmingly had to stay at home. Also, many young people show high levels of volunteerism (31%) and a willingness to donate (27%). This age group is keen to help others by correcting misinformation, assisting the elderly and disabled, and distributing food and protective equipment.
Young people in Africa have been engaged in many inspiring ways in the fight against the global pandemic through raising awareness, volunteering, supporting the community, lobbying governments, demonstrating generosity and engaging in production activities. This included making masks to donate to the community and producing personal protection equipment (PPE) for hospitals. Agile young people have created a number of new businesses or retrofitted older ones to cater to the purpose. The Mo Ibrahim Foundation Now Generation Network Survey capturing the challenges of COVID-19 in Africa showed that two-thirds of these volunteerism activities were undertaken collectively, while the remaining one-third was done on an individual basis. The collective efforts were undertaken by civil society organizations (some of which were founded by youth), academic institutions, alumni groups and faith-based congregations.
Capitalizing on its long history since its inception in 1911, being the sole non-governmental organization authorized to act as an auxiliary body to the governmental authorities in times of peace and war as well as having a 30,000 people strong volunteer-base, the Egyptian Red Crescent (ERC) was well-positioned to be at the forefront of engaging youth in combating the pandemic. Dr. Amal Emam, National Manager of Volunteers at ERC, indicated that the organization is very unique in its inclusion of youth in its governance structure, managerial functions and support services on the ground. ERC’s governing board in each of its branches has a permanent seat dedicated to young people; its management includes young people in key positions and almost 80% of the regular volunteers are young people working with branches in all 27 governorates of Egypt.
On March 24, ERC launched “Volunteer in Every Street” Campaign in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The role of the volunteers in the campaign was to raise awareness through messages, combating rumors and infodemic, undertaking preliminary needs assessments, and assisting with monitoring. This is in addition to supporting government and ERC activities in their neighborhoods. Around 3,361 volunteers positively responded to the campaign covering 91.5% of the country’s 249 major cities. Two-thirds were spontaneous volunteers and one-third were regular volunteers. There was a close to an equal split between students and graduates. Males (58%) slightly outnumbered females (42%). Only one quarter of the volunteers had a medical background while the rest came from all walks of life.
An online training package was availed to all volunteers at the onset of the campaign, introducing ERC; explaining the symptoms of COVID-19, its complications and prevention measures; psychological first aid; nutrition; home isolation and infection control measures. On an interactive map of Egypt, young people from various governorates share stories on how their engagement in this campaign played a crucial role in their lives and that of others. Stories are about the differences experiences of the volunteers, ranging from the use of digital media such as WhatsApp groups, Facebook and Instagram to share nine key messages; to delivering masks and sanitizer kits in rural areas; to provision of education and healthcare promotion and support to in-kind and financial donations. Young males and females from Port Said and Qena explain how the campaign enhanced their self-esteem and self-development in these unprecedented difficult and different times. Under lockdown, it was incomprehensible for regular volunteers to imagine how they can lend support without being vulnerable to infection until they got involved in the campaign, with guidance from ERC on minimizing infection risk and orientation on the use of online communication channels, raising the slogan “your safety comes first”.
The US Embassy had announced on June 8 that “USAID’s 51 million Egyptian pounds ($3.2 million) in assistance to the Egyptian Red Crescent will support the distribution of hygiene kits to vulnerable rural and urban demographics, and will supplement ERC’s mobile resource centers to expand awareness of safe hygiene practices and provide initial fever screenings and referral services, in addition to providing psycho-social support services to healthcare workers.” USAID also facilitated a partnership between Uber and ERC for Uber to provide access to reliable transportation solutions for ERC’s front-line health workers.