Young people are telling us what they need, we have to listen

Girls wearing facemasks walk past the fence of Mile 12 Food Market in Lagos, Nigeria on Monday, May, 4 2020. Picture: Adekunle Ajayi/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
Girls wearing facemasks walk past the fence of Mile 12 Food Market in Lagos, Nigeria on Monday, May, 4 2020. Picture: Adekunle Ajayi/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Youth on the world’s youngest continent have something to say during the Covid-19 coronavirus crisis: “Don’t just talk at us, talk with us and listen to what we need.”

A campaign to reach 3 million young people in the first three weeks of South Africa’s lockdown showed us how much you can learn when you listen to the voices of young people and how important it is to make sure that they have accurate information to keep themselves safe and informed.

What did we hear? Young people are being flooded with fake news and misinformation. Early in the lockdown, the campaign called out in real-time a growing trend of youth reporting that they were afraid to get tested by community health workers because of misinformation falsely alleging that testing kits were infected with Covid-19. The combined effort of more than 200 partners participating in the campaign helped push back with accurate information and trusted content.

They want to know who is recovering, not just who is dying. We heard young people ask about who is recovering, and if it was people “like us”.

READ: SA employers must ensure safer workplaces as economy reopens

They wanted to know that medical resources to support recoveries were available for all. They tuned in to hear the story of 27-year-old Ncebakazi Willie, a young woman from the Eastern Cape who recovered from Covid-19 after being infected with the virus while working on an international cruise ship.

She was anxious and worried, but after a period of self-isolation she recovered and has now tested negative. She is hopeful for the future and reassured other young South Africans.

Young people want stories, not just information. Although they are responding to statistics about the virus, they also want to hear stories to help them make sense of what is going on. A comic series and radio programme called Bona, Corona! has been sharing the adventures of Tshepo as he navigates his way through the pandemic.

They need help to stay busy and employable. Young people have lost jobs and income. They can’t hustle to earn at the moment, and are asking for help to keep themselves busy and to be ready for any opportunities that may be available after the lockdown eases.

What they say they need is access to more affordable data so that they can be online for longer to access information and skills.

Our youth have the same needs as other South Africans. Young people are not immune to the mental health challenges caused by this pandemic and are asking for more resources. Some are also struggling to find food and are not sure how to wash their hands in households without running water. Despite all of this, they amaze us with solutions – giving each other tips and hints on how to manage in these difficult circumstances.

Even though we reached millions of youth in the first three weeks of the lockdown, our work is far from done. This campaign will continue to use social media, WhatsApp, SMS, radio and other channels to provide a data-free platform for young people to tell us what they need. We will continue to lift up youth voices of resilience and recovery, to provide them with tips for how to build employability skills from home during the lockdown, and to equip them to become fact checkers and “fake news fighters” so that they protect themselves and model the healthy behaviours needed of us all to fight Covid-19. We will need our young people to help lead us out of this crisis.

Iskander is chief executive of Harambee Youth Employment Accelerator

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