As we celebrate the hope new life during Easter, Salesian Life Choices shows how the youth of the Western Cape, South Africa are also offering hope and helping to fight the COVID-19 pandemic. They are using their access to technology to educate their communities about the virus and measures to prevent contracting it. They are also already thinking about how to help with the “reconstruction” that President Cyril Ramaphosa called for during his address to the nation on 9 April.
The African continent is a “young” continent and it is this reality that has given many people hope that South Africans and other African countries will pull through the devastating COVID-19 pandemic.
Youth make up almost a third of the population in South Africa, according to Statistics South Africa population estimates for 2019.
Around the world, COVID-19 has hit older people hardest, but World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus recently cautioned young people not to become complacent, warning them that they are not spared.
Youth and social media
President Cyril Ramaphosa announced a national lockdown, that has now been extended to 30 April, to stem the tide of COVID-19 in South Africa. That has since been extended by a further two weeks.
In light of this, there is a growing movement of young people locally who are making the responsible decision to actively promote awareness about the virus, including physical distancing where possible. Tech-savvy youth are staying informed with up to date information about the pandemic. This is helping to facilitate conversations with peers as well as inter-generational dialogue with their parents and care givers about the pandemic. While social media can be a hotbed of inaccurate and potentially dangerous information (which government has warned against with penalties), it is important that young people are able to critically discern reliable information from false and untrue information.
Thembalethu Seyisi (20), is a third year LLB student at Stellenbosch University and a board member of the Cape Town based NPO Salesian Life Choices, also known as Life Choices.
The NPO provides services to young people from the low-income communities of the Cape Flats. It does so through five building blocks that assist youth to thrive, that is: family stability, health, education, leadership and employment.
The organisation has been posting daily messages of support on social media during the pandemic to followers and supporters.
Seyisi explains that young people are key actors in the online space and urges them to use online platforms responsibly and as a form of civic engagement during the lockdown.
Finding common ground for the good of all
Seyisi explains: “The youth is much faster in getting information via different media platforms. I plead that the youth shares valuable and reliable sources with their networks.
We must use this pandemic to find common ground where youth and the older generation can work together going forward. Throughout the world, governments are seeking solutions to fight COVID-19. I suggest that we, the youth, step up to the challenge and join government in finding solutions. Not just solutions for COVID-19, but solutions for a fair and just world rooted in ubuntu.
Governments are listening now more than ever before. Let’s take to the social media “streets” with our solutions. My message to South Africa, the continent of Africa and the world, is that we will live to see better days if we work together, as guardians of Mother Earth, and do all we can to fight this pandemic. Let us listen to the experts and follow the measures put in place by government.
The biggest evil that we will have to deal with once the virus is under control is capitalism; that which perpetuates inequality among gender, class and race. Although the generous donations by the billionaires is admirable, we have to ask ourselves how we allowed a system to exist that prioritizes the needs of the minority at the expense of the majority. If there was ever a time to radically change our society, this is it. It will be at our own peril if we don’t.”
Young people share the responsibility in combatting the emergency that is sweeping the world and to prioritise the needs of others before individual needs.
In other parts of the world, young people have mobilised to assist the elderly by offering to buy them groceries and safely delivering the goods.
Here in South Africa, there have been similar calls for selfless acts of courage and leadership by young people.
Ayesha Hull (21) is a Life Choices alumnus from Schaapkraal and she believes that the time is now for young people to amplify their voice and demonstrate servant leadership:
“During this pandemic we are facing, we all want to help where we can. In times like this it helps us to remember how fortunate some of us are to even have a roof over our heads and a place that is safe. Our communities are struggling and it is our youth that should be reaching out and finding ways to help our communities. There are so many programmes that need a helping hand. I personally feel that our youth today has so much access to all social media platforms where it has made it easy for us to contact anybody from anywhere from the comfort of our homes.
Our youth is so full of ideas yet we are not getting together to make a plan of action. We should be raising funds, and finding new and creative ways of raising donations to feed our families in need.”
The challenge is for creative, responsible and inclusive ways to curb the tide of the pandemic. The youth may have just the unique perspective to re-think responses to this public health emergency.