Youth and COVID-19: Stories of creativity and resilience

An ode to adolescents and young people who helped fight the COVID-19 pandemic

Gowri Sundararajan
UNICEF India/UNICEF India/2021
02 August 2021

India’s young people are leading the way in the battle against COVID-19 through heroic acts of goodwill and support in their families and communities.

Through some of the harshest times, these young champions have stepped up as researchers, advocates, innovators and communicators on the frontline, promoting health and safety. Their courage and relentless determination to help those around them is a reminder of how we can achieve a healthier, safer and equal world.

As adolescents and young people continue to showcase their adaptability and resilience in this challenging time, it is important for the rest of us to recognize, support and champion their skills development.

Making lives better

“We are 'The Blue Brigade'. These are our stories of hope, resilience, and determination. We support women and children in rural and urban areas of Chhattisgarh to access essential services and to reduce adverse impact of COVID-19 and overcome challenges,” - The Blue Brigade Volunteers.

The efforts of about 25,000 youth enrolled in the Blue Brigade initiative by UNICEF India and the National Service Scheme (NSS) reached one million people across Chhattisgarh. They advocate for complete immunization of children under five years, support pregnant women to access antenatal care and safe delivery at their nearest health facility and inform the public about nutrition for children, adolescents and women. They also assist children to continue their learning even as schools are closed and raise awareness about child safety and protection.


Ensuring the most vulnerable are not left behind

Thanks to these youth volunteers in Madhya Pradesh, more residents in rural areas have decided to get vaccinated.

Misconceptions have resulted in several people in tribal-dominated areas in Madhya Pradesh being reluctant to take the COVID-19 vaccination. To overcome vaccine hesitancy, Youth4Children volunteers Divisha Parwar, Ritesh and Aarti Yadav went door-to-door to campaign across all villages in Dhar district of Madhya Pradesh.

“We check people’s oxygen levels, distribute face masks, teach them proper handwashing techniques and address issues around vaccine hesitancy,” - Divisha Parwar.

Their efforts are yielding positive results with more people choosing to get vaccinated. Along with the team of Seva Bharati and the State Health Department, and with the support of UNICEF India, these volunteers are trying to change people’s outlook towards vaccination.


Library on Wheels

We may have different 'waves' of COVID-19, there may be disruptions in learning and schools may have been closed, but not this Library on Wheels at Singrauli in Madhya Pradesh. Teacher-student duo Usha Dubey and Mahima Singh are determined that no child should be deprived of access to education and learning.

During the lockdowns, many children in Singrauli’s Baidhan did not have access to mobile phones or digital devices. The idea of “Library on Wheels” was to reach these students with books using a scooter. Along with Mahima, many more girls are busy channelizing their time and efforts in implementing this as the local children are very interested to read and learn.

“We travel every day on our scooter with our 'Library on Wheels'. My conversations with my teacher and our journey are what I so look forward too. We are doing our small bit to ensure my friends continue to study and in small ways reimagining our future for me and my friends,” - Mahima Singh.


The child trying to bridge a digital divide

Hitarth Sheth, 17, is a social impact entrepreneur from Surat, Gujarat. He is the founder of Gujju Student, an online learning platform for Gujarati students.

“The relative lack of online content in minority languages and the absence of content concerning large swathes of the world, especially low and middle-income countries is an issue I encountered as a Gujarati school student in Class 9. It led me to develop an app called Gujju Student, now being used by thousands of students in Gujarat, India,” - Hitarth Sheth.

Hitharth’s work mostly revolves around education He highlights some of the most important issues being faced by students, the potential solutions and what can be done collectively do to ensure equal learning opportunities for every child, online.

Here’s the link to his blog The Digital Divide: How can we create equal learning opportunities for every child, online.


The power of youth and community radio

The ability to spread a message using the right medium is of utmost importance during a pandemic.

Ashwathy Murali, a community radio producer from the tribal Paniyar community, has helped to break COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy. The result? Today her entire village is vaccinated.

Wayanad, Kerala, is home to more than 3,000 tribal hamlets mostly belonging to the Paniyar community. The majority in the community had expressed fears and anxiety about the vaccination.

To tackle the fear, myths and misconceptions on the COVID-19 pandemic and vaccination, along with the health department and the National Health Mission (NHM), Ashwathy Murali was assigned to do a programme on Radio Mattoli. Ashwathy’s creative skills to plan radio programmes in the Paniya tribal dialect created a better understanding of the importance of vaccines within her community.

“Our first attempt was to create awareness, build confidence and mitigate the fear among the Paniya people, through various community radio programs. I translated the discourses of expert doctors on COVID-19 vaccination and COVID Appropriate Behaviour (CAB) into Paniya language and broadcasted them as radio programs. We also used jingles made in Paniya language based on the information provided by health department to create awareness via social media and radio,”  - Ashwathy Murali.


The ‘fake news’ fighter


Althaf is a child rights advocate and awardee from Chennai, Tamil Nadu. Due to COVID-19 his father lost his job and his mother is at home. His ambition is to become a film maker and he has done a lot of awareness videos and short films. Despite the difficult financial circumstances, this aspiring young film maker is doing his bit to spread awareness and tackle misinformation in his community by sharing verified information on COVID-19.

“There has been a lot of incorrect misinformation on COVID-19 spreading through social media channels, please do not believe such messages or forward them without verifying the source. Please refer to verified information from UNICEF India, WHO, MoHFW and Tamil Nadu government website or social media channels. Since I am following these channels, I share the same with the people in my community and tell them not to spread false information. I urge you all to do the same,” - Althaf.

Many youth advocates like Althaf have inspired us and supported us through this pandemic. Like him, we too can do our bit to share correct information.


Creating art to cope

Aditya is an artist from Patna, Bihar. The ongoing crisis across the globe has restricted his movement. His way to cope with the first and second waves of the pandemic was through his art.

“During the lockdown I had plenty of time, I explored many things about myself, my hobbies, and my dreams. Most of the time, I was designing and creating illustrations, filling some colors, I wish I could do this in life too. I am engaged in social campaigns for Bihar Youth for Child Rights. In March, we had done a campaign WE MEN WITH WOMEN, and I prepared posters, edited videos, and contributed to a good cause,” - Aditya.

Many of Aditya’s friends and his family members e tested positive for COVID-19. He made sure to be there for them virtually and shared factual, useful information to put their minds at ease. He is worried that many still do not wear a mask, wash their hands regularly or maintain a minimum two-meter distance. The only way we can win this battle is if we fight it together by following these steps says Aditya.


Harnessing the strength of technology 

The pandemic has disrupted the learning of an entire generation. Young minds like Adito are advocating for using digital platforms and technology to educate, teach and create job opportunities for themselves and others.

“I want to support my family financially. One of my cousins taught me about YouTube and how to be a YouTuber and make money out of it. I did not have the requisite equipment like tripod, mic, laptop, editing software or a good smart phone. Right now, a lot of children are attending classes online, and are facing technical difficulties due to lack of digital knowledge. I felt there was a need and despite the lack of proper equipment I started making technical learning videos,” - Adito.

Let’s support young champion leaders like Adito who inspire us all to do more!


Innovating to improve awareness on COVID-19 Appropriate Behaviors


COVID-19 has brought daily life to a standstill for many across India, but young volunteers are working relentlessly to keep people safe during these tough times. Ashok and other volunteers have been working with the local authorities in Chennai to increase awareness about how to protect each other against COVID-19. Ashok is keen to promote positive behaviors to prevent COVID-19 including sharing the facts about and the benefits of vaccination. UNICEF is supporting the local authorities by training and deploying community level volunteers like Ashok and others to support frontline workers to create awareness on COVID-19.

“I am part of this wonderful awareness programme at Chennai Central Railway Station. Some people are not wearing face masks properly. Some were using dirty handkerchiefs. We distributed free face masks and sanitizers for them to use. Some were eating paan and spitting in public places, and we warned them about its impact,” - Ashok.

Let’s support young people like Ashok who are helping us defeat this pandemic.


Using the power of Social Media and apps to spread accurate and verified information

Mantasha is pursuing her Bachelor’s in Elementary Education. Mantasha believes in giving back to the society during this challenging time. She is an active youth volunteer and for the past two years has been creating awareness on preventing COVID-19 on social media.

“I believe in building a selfless society through acts of kindness. During COVID-19, I created and shared videos with authentic information to help people. We also collected and distributed provisions to families hit by the pandemic,” - Mantasha.

Mantasha continues to help people with verified information about COVID-19. She has also provided books and stationery to students who are unable to access education easily due to this pandemic.