Why India’s 5 million youngsters present the hope to arrest the pandemic

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Kshitij Kamble, a 23-year-old Mumbaikar, has been educating and spreading awareness about COVID-19 vaccination and slot openings among his family members, friends and acquaintances. “I keep a tab on the slot openings for vaccinations and help them register. I also talk about vaccinations and answer their queries. When you talk to people you realise that there’s so much they don’t know. Also, the information that they get is not always accurate,” he says.

In addition, he is also leveraging his educational background in psychology to conduct sessions on mental health. “The sessions are focused on enabling people to adopt healthy defence mechanisms or coping strategies for pandemic-induced anxiety-related issues,” Kshitij explains.

A pan-India movement for mobilising the youth

Kshitij is among the 1.2 lakh youngsters who have registered for Young Warriors Coalition - a pan-India movement to engage 5 million ‘Young Warriors’ to combat COVID-19. Launched on May 10, 2021, the movement is being led by young people, CBSE, Ministry of Youth Affairs (MoYAS), Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW), YuWaah and UNICEF, with the support of 1750+ coalition partners across Government, Civil Society, UN Agencies and Private Sector to address the ongoing COVID-19 crisis.

The campaign looks at roping in volunteers between the ages of 10-24 years and educating them about the right protocols, information on COVID-19 appropriate behaviour, so that they can dispel myths about the virus, vaccine hesitancy and even provide inputs on initial homecare or the steps people need to take to secure their lives. Over a period of 12 weeks, the campaign hopes to leverage the support of 5 million youngsters to secure the lives of at least 50 million families in the country.

As India faces its biggest crisis since independence, the collective grit and drive of 300 million youth represent the country’s best shot at finding a solution to come out of this crisis. Even though young people are among the groups that are among the most affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, they have emerged as the ones with the best networks and outreach, which is required for a campaign like this . The youth have been at the forefront of protecting, safeguarding, and advancing the rights of all young people in terms of education, health, gender, social justice, and many more areas. And, to come forward and mobilise people in the country’s fight against the COVID-19 pandemic is a timely and natural extension.

“The young people hold the key to leading our country out of the current crisis and towards hope and healing. If we can equip young people with the right support, they can change the course of the COVID-19 trajectory in India,” said Usha Sharma, Secretary, Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports.

The campaign was designed not just keeping the potential of youngsters in mind but also their strong desire to make a difference at a time when the country is going through a deadly crisis. Last year, the UNICEF-initiated multi-stakeholder global platform, YuWaah’s engagement and consultations with young people and partners showed that there was a need for an initiative which could spearhead a movement where young people can contribute, learn, and lead the charge to manage the current situation better. The Young Warriors campaign took root here.

Facilitating awareness and action

The only quality one needs to have to register for the campaign is to be self-motivated. Each young person enrols 10 more and pledges to take a specified action to protect themselves, their family and their neighbourhood against COVID-19.

To facilitate engagement with Young Warriors, the campaign has been designed as a series of real-life tasks hosted on both tech and non-tech platforms in 10 regional languages. When young people take up and complete the tasks, they are equipped with information that can help them take the first steps towards securing themselves, their families, and their communities. While the participants will receive a certificate of participation and receive reward points on completing each task, the campaign at the core thrives on self-motivated youngsters and their desire to lead change and drive impact.

The real-life tasks are categorised into five key areas - to detect and bust fake news, encourage others to register for vaccination, provide peer-to-peer mental support, capacitate caregiving at home and influence and amplify COVID-19 appropriate behaviour . For instance, the programme provides tools and techniques to identify and debunk fake news in a proactive manner. The initiative is also working on a mechanism for the young warriors to answer further doubts or queries through regularly conducted online sessions. Interventions with experts to identify and resolve queries raised by youth are also in the works.

The youngsters will be able to get the information they need via three platforms. The first is a chatbot on WhatsApp called UReport, the second is an Interactive Voice Response (IVR)-based platform for those who may not have access to WhatsApp/internet on their feature phones and the third option is a community radio programme for those who have no access to phones. In addition, the youngsters will also have access to a knowledge and learning hub via a virtual library with indexed state-specific information tools and blended learning tools that are adolescent and youth-friendly.

The campaign also provides a safe space and peer support for the youngsters. While information dissemination and driving action is one of the key focus areas of the programme, the initiative seeks to create a safe space for the youth where they could share their concerns. There are specific activities that have been designed to help them cope up and heal from grief and the distress they experience while dealing with a crisis of this magnitude. Under the Young Warriors campaign, YuWaah, is working on connecting young people to resources on mental health, including a helpline and peer-support groups to deal with stress and anxiety brought on by the onset of the devastating second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.

A multistake-holder effort

Given that the ‘Young Warriors’ programme is led by YuWaah, which is a UNICEF-initiated multi-stakeholder global platform, the programme is being supported by various government departments, government bodies and civil society organisations. The list of ministries supporting this initiative includes the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports (MoYAS), Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW), Ministry of Education and the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE). Over 1700+ partners across civil society, UN agencies, and the private sector including UNFPA, UNDP, UNESCO, UNHCR, WHO, Bharat Scouts & Guides, Google, Save the Children, Breakthrough, Digital Empowerment Foundation, Youth4Jobs, and many more are participating in the campaign. The partners have pledged their support and committed that they will in turn engage at least 3.1 million young people.

Each of these partners come with a certain expertise in terms of engagement with youth and the campaign’s endeavour is to optimally utilise each of their individual strengths in the most effective manner. For example, while some partners come with an expertise in IVR, some come with expertise in engaging with rural audiences, many others come with access or influence to certain youth groups. The campaign will leverage their expertise to tap into their network and knowledge to tailor the message to the specific demographic and psychographic audience and also provide capacity-building support in creating and executing sessions for the young warriors.

Within three weeks of the programme launch, over 1.2 lakh young people have begun taking action through the U-Report platform. “Collectively, through partner commitments, we are already on track to mobilise over 2 million young people. Further, with the Ministry of Youth Affairs’ guidance , we are also reaching out to NSS and NYKS networks across India, and with CBSE coming on board, Yuwaah will be able to reach thousands of schools across India to mobilise young people in the COVID-19 response.”

Given that the vaccination drive has begun for people over 18 years, “The #YoungWarrior movement is timely. Young people can lead the way in ensuring the safety of their communities, get vaccinated, and encourage communities to sustain COVID appropriate behaviours,” shared

Joint Secretary Padmaja Singh , Ministry of Health and Family Welfare said.

The campaign aims to constructively engage a minimum of 5 million youth from around the country at the earliest so the specially designed tools and resources can help them during the present crisis. With the young people on board, it will be possible to reach out to a total of 50 million people through the COVID-19 response programmes. It is India’s best bet yet to tide over the second wave COVID-19.

Join the #YoungWarrior movement through any of the following ways

  1. Type ‘YWA’ and send it to +91 96504 14141 on WhatsApp (linked to a tech-based chat-botplatform called U-Report);
  2. Give a missed call to 080-66019225 (an Interactive Voice Response (IVR)-based platform for those without WhatsApp / Internet service on their phones)
  3. Take the pledge, post ‘I am a #YoungWarrior’ & tag 5 friends. Log on to yuwaah.org or visit its social media pages on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. (Need to hyperlink the social media pages and website)
  4. Search for UReportIndia on Telegram.

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