The Natural Sciences of UNESCO joined hands with the Africa Youth Advisory Board for Disaster Risk Reduction (AYAB DRR) to organise a Webinar on Youth engagement on COVID-19 for ‘the Africa We Want"
On Wednesday, 15th April, 2020, the Webinar brought together over 100 participants who were united in their vision to be meaningfully engaged in responding to COVID-19 for ‘the Africa We Want’. COVID-19 is a communicable respiratory disease described by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as a global public health disaster (Pandemic). The participants who were mostly young Africans currently engaged or wanted to be involved in activities that were supporting their local communities to reduce its exposure to the disease or supporting vulnerable people to become resilient in the crises.
The Africa Youth Advisory Board (AYAB) on Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) was instituted under the African Union Commission (AUC), with the support of the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR) for the Africa Region in Nairobi to meaningfully engage young people in DRR processes on the African Continent. AYAB joined hands with UNESCO as part of efforts to support young Africans action on COVID-19.
In the opening remarks from Ms. Ann Therese Ndong-Jatta, the Director and Representative, UNESCO Regional Office in Eastern Africa, she highlighted the importance of investing in young people so they can be at the centre of DRR activities
she highlighted the importance of investing in young people so they can be at the centre of DRR activities. She said, “we can use them as part of the media especially the social media, but they need to have knowledge so that we have to target them and give them the right knowledge”. She further stressed that young people should be given the space and support by all stakeholders, especially, development agencies to ensure that the unreached are reached. Thus, supporting meaningful youth engagement is a high priority for UNESCO.
In a special address by Ms. Shamila Nair-Bedouelle – Assistant Director General of Natural Sciences, UNESCO Paris, she emphasized that youths are agents of change and there's need to ensure that they are empowered to be able to speak with the voice that can influence the policy makers for the future of the “Africa we want” so that they can advocate for new policies, new procedures, new protocols and new types of practices. Ms. Shamila was excited about the digital advocacy being done by AYAB and the proactive measures being taken by young Africans especially as COVID-19 is unprecedented. She expressed UNESCO’s readiness to support youth initiatives that would reduce the society’s exposure and increase their resilience to the pandemic. She also pointed out that as an educational and scientific institution, UNESCO is interested in best practices and lessons learnt during this period which will build resilience for the future pandemics and the “Africa We want”. In conclusion, she stated that there is a call that was made on the UN special fund on mitigation and measuring social impacts, and they will be delighted to work with AYAB to mobilize African youth.
Mr. Julius Kabubi, from the UNDRR Region of Africa Office in Nairobi, highlighted partnerships as key in preventing further spread of infection and protecting the vulnerable in health disasters, thus, the organisation considered AYAB and young Africans as valued stakeholders in supporting risk reduction and recovery efforts on COVID-19. Since Africa has the youngest population, UNDRR is partnering with AYAB and young Africans as a measure to ensure that no one is left out.
Mr. Alain Koualou from the AUC was delighted that the Commission's trust in young people to be agents of change in DRR processes was not misplaced. He commended AYAB for living up to its mandate by meaningfully engaging the youth on the COVID-19 crisis. The AUC also encouraged participating agencies to support the work of AYAB in order to enable it to fully fulfil its functions. Mr. Koualou also highlighted structures in the AUC that support youths in the Diaspora who expressed interest in being meaningfully engaged in the COVID-19 (DRR) response.
The webinar highlighted AYAB DRR’s digital Advocacy on COVID19 through social media (Facebook, Twitter & Instagram) to share risk reduction information from WHO and Africa Centre for Disease Control. In addition, some innovative and proactive initiatives of young Africans to support risk reduction measures and coping mechanisms against COVID19 were highlighted. These initiatives included the development of a solar powered automated hand washing basin, printing of 3-D printed protective masks, translation of risk reduction messages into local languages at vantage points, using arts, mobile application and entertainment to dispel myths and false information of COVID-19. Young Africans also made personal contributions and campaigned for funds from family and friends to buy ingredients to prepare WHO homemade hand sanitizers and provide assistance to vulnerable groups who have been adversely affected by the pandemic.
The following were the outcomes of the webinar:
- UNESCO would support AYAB to facilitate the strengthening of young people's capacity in integrating disaster risk reduction into health education to build a culture of safety and resilience for life;
- AYAB would lead the compilation of best practices and case studies of young Africans initiatives on COVID-19 which would serve as an educational material for future pandemics;
- UNESCO would support AYAB to promote the use of innovative IT Solutions and communication approaches by young people for dissemination of risk reduction and recovery information to vulnerable populations, particularly to at-risk communities;
- AYAB would advocate for meaningful youth engagement in the design and implementation of gender-responsive and inclusive disaster risk reduction policies and plans, that addresses the needs and empowers vulnerable population; women, children, people with disabilities, older persons, migrants, and other population at risk and protection needs before, during and after disasters.
From the above, it is clear that the webinar was a success with the enriching discussions between the participating agencies and young people. It is hoped that the outcomes of the webinar would be supported by the participating Agencies (UNESCO, UNDRR, AUC and AYAB DRR - as young Africans representative) to achieve meaningful engagement of young people in DRR for “the Africa we want ''.