The life of young people in Croatia during the pandemic

Young people in Croatia are part of UNICEF’s response

Marina Knežević Barišić
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UNICEF
02 April 2020

Being an adolescent is always challenging, but the last few weeks have been even more difficult for young people. Naturally, the reasons for this lie in the COVID-19 pandemic, and everything that has come with it. In addition, Zagreb, the capital of Croatia, and its surroundings were hit by the strongest earthquake in the last 140 years, leaving some people without their homes, and causing damage to a number of schools.

Therefore, it is uncertain how school is going to resume even when the pandemic is behind us.  Schools and universities have been closed since 16 March, and lessons have been held over the internet and on television, sporting and school events have been cancelled, and so have the preparations for the state Matura (the secondary-school leaving examination), while socialising with friends has been limited to messages and video talks. We asked over 200 young people how do they cope with the new normal and what their concerns were. This is what they said:  

“The current situation has affected my personal peace, and there is a growing concern.”

“I am worried because of online classes, and how things will develop regarding the Matura exam (final exam).”

“I’m worried about online classes and the further development of the coronavirus situation. I’m afraid that this situation will additionally affect the state Matura exam and university enrolments, and we are already behind due to the recent teachers’ strike.”

“I used to see my friends at the weekend, and now I spend most of my time at home.”

“The biggest problem is that we don't know what is going to happen, and how long this will last.”

“Lots of habits have changed, but our health comes first.”

As we can see from the statements that these young people have shared with us, many are experiencing fear, uncertainty, disappointment and isolation, which is something to be expected and is completely normal in such a situation. In order to help them cope better with the current situation, UNICEF Office in Croatia created a dedicated web corner for Adolescents and Youth with to provide guidance on how young people can preserve their mental health at the time of crisis caused by the coronavirus (and the earthquake), and  answers to questions of their key concern in a produced.  

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, other activities of the young ambassadors under the EU Council Presidency have been temporarily delayed, and their maintenance will depend solely on the development of the pandemic situation, both in Croatia and in the European Union. The more restrictive lifestyles that coronavirus forced us into, as well as the earthquake that hit central Croatia, encouraged young ambassadors to act in response to the new situation. In order to prevent the spread of coronavirus among their peers and to preserve the mental health of young people during the pandemic, young ambassadors have engaged in the spread of messages through the online platforms of UNICEF and ZABUM (dedicated page for UNICEF Croatia youth programme). They regularly share personal stories of living in isolation, distance learning experiences, sending messages about the importance of critical thinking and identifying fake news during infodemia, combating xenophobia, stigmatization and discrimination to reduce the negative impact of the pandemic on the mental health of young people and are actively engaged in UNICEF’s response through their blogs and video blogs.

Their efforts in responding to the COVID-19 crisis was recognized by the youth media, local media in their communities and traditional media outlets, where the Youth Ambassadors personally shared their visions and ideas through first-time media experiences. The content created by the adolescents and young people enriched Voices of Youth and UNICEF our website and social networks, adding to the reach and engagement with younger audiences and parents on UNICEF Office in Croatia social media.

Regina Castillo, UNICEF Representative in Croatia said “I am encouraged and inspired by the resilience of young people at this difficult time and by their multiple and creative ways of supporting each other as well as other members of their community. Let’s use everything we have learned from this pandemic to change our society for the better.”