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Children & youth call for practical solutions during the COVID-19 pandemic

Posted in News on March 23, 2021

As we kick off Global Money Week, which should be a moment of celebrations, children from all over the world are expressing their concerns about the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the impact it has on them, as well as their families, friends and communities.

During the past week, Aflatoun International connected children from 40 countries around the world to share and discuss among themselves current challenges and identify solutions looking forward. There are three recurring themes. The children are calling for the re-opening of schools and, if this is not possible, for providing real working solutions for distance learning. Secondly, they are asking for help to reduce their anxiety as they cannot access their usual support from their friends and peers (mental health). And thirdly, they are concerned about the socio-economic situation of their parents and caregivers which can again impact their own future further; if the financial situation at home does not allow them to access quality and relevant education that will let them develop the skills needed to successfully transition from childhood to adulthood – #ChildrenEmpowered.

Full Statement

Today, we kick off the celebrations of Global Money Week (GMW), an annual global celebration with global, regional and local and activities aimed at inspiring children and youth to learn about money, saving, creating livelihoods, gaining employment or becoming entrepreneurs. GMW takes its roots from Aflatoun Day, an annual celebration and learning event organised every year in March. ‘Take care of yourself, take care of your money’ is the official theme of GMW 2021. This theme highlights the importance of building financial resilience and staying healthy in the current context of the global pandemic.

In the run-up to Aflatoun Day 2021 (25 March 2021), Aflatoun and its partners organised a series of calls with and between children and young people from more than 40 countries in Africa, Asia, Europe, the Middle East and the Americas. The youth openly spoke about how the COVID-19 pandemic affected their lives and shared their coping mechanisms. They are asking their governments and policymakers for practical solutions to reduce their anxiety and allow them to continue their education immediately.

Children are losing a sense of future

Children are not happy. Every girl and boy participating in the discussions, from Colombia to Ghana, to the Philippines, felt the consequences of the pandemic in their daily life. They all miss their friends and find that the most difficult part is not being able to go to school. Switching to online learning has not been easy: many households do not have access to the internet, and many do not have devices to access online learning materials.

“When the schools closed, we started studying at home. But some classes are difficult to study alone. I am sad that we missed many opportunities to learn and socialise with our friends. I have not seen my friends for months.” – Ishara from Sri Lanka.

“One of the greatest challenges for me was the schools’ closure. Many young people in El Salvador do not have digital means to continue virtual education. In my case, my family cannot afford to have digital materials that would allow me to study online. Gladly, thanks to the Foundation [Fundación Gloria de Kriete] and other people who helped me I could continue learning. In Salvador, there are many children who do not have resources to study online.” – Leslie from El Salvador.

Children from the Philippines mentioned a slow internet connection. Showing that simply having access to learning devices is not enough; in order to ensure quality online learning, internet access must also be ensured.

Additionally, the pandemic took its toll on children’s mental health. Even though almost every young person mentioned that the lockdown was a great time to connect with their families, it majorly affected their mental well-being.

“The confinement was very difficult for me. The restraints from not being able to do the activities that make me happy, honestly, had serious effects on my mental health. Everything stopped. We were forced to stay at home, we had very little to do, and on top of that, we had absolutely no assurances or hope in our future. This was in addition to all the general health-related stresses of the pandemic. It was very stressful for us young people.” – Gabriele from Burkina Faso.

“The pandemic has been very hard. We could not do many things together with our friends. For example, we could not see them, play with them or be around them, so it is hard to live a normal life.”  Harawobadi from Ghana.

Children are calling for practical solutions

During the calls, we also asked children what are they expecting from their governments, community leaders, schools, and teachers to help them overcome the challenges they encountered during the pandemic. The answers were very clear and sensible: they want schools to be open, they ask for better means to access quality online learning, they ask for support to reduce their anxiety and they are pleading for jobs and/or financial support for their parents/caregivers.

Open schools – An interesting insight came from the call between young people from Armenia, Ethiopia and Zimbabwe. Students from poor families could not afford to have the necessary digital devices to attend online lessons. If they could ask one thing from their presidents it would be to open the schools and not go back to online classes.

“We understand the fact that measures have to be respected in order for people’s health to be protected, but the distanced learning was not equivalent to the quality of education we got at school. We are concerned that this will have an impact on our futures. We want the government to do more to ensure that there are adequate support and quality control of education because learning from home did not fulfil our educational needs.”  Aka from Mali

Digital means – Recognising that some government leaders do not currently consider opening schools as an option, children and youth asked for digital means and access to the internet in order to continue learning. This could be through providing devices to children who do not have them in their households or through community centres with access to computers.

“I think the decisionmakers should consider that in some households they only have one device for four or five people to connect to their classes. They could give them gadgets so everyone in a household can connect.” – Luis from Guatemala.

“To face Covid-19, we need a stronger internet connection and basic social services like electricity and water, as those are very weak in Yemen.” – Ismail from Yemen.

“I would ask to make some community centres, where they would lend computers to do homework, with good internet access and to be a centre for socialisation. We completely isolated ourselves in our homes and don’t talk to anyone. For those of us who are not in the city, the internet does not work well.” – Regina from Mexico.

Mental health support – Child and adolescent mental health has been profoundly exacerbated by the pandemic. They explained that the pandemic has brought many uncertainties to them, their friends and their families. With daily updates about the virus and lockdowns dominating media channels around the world, people’s mental health has been negatively affected as a result of being overexposed to somber news. During all our sessions young people asked for special counselling sessions or mentorship to overcome the challenges brought by the pandemic.

“I would ask them [the local government] to better guarantee the mental health of students since not all of us can face situations in the same way. There are young people who have had a harder time adapting to this reality.” – Violeta from El Salvador

“We would ask the local community to organise communal entertaining and educative activities while respecting the social distancing regulations like our activities in our Aflatoun Club.” – Aflatoun club student from Tunisia

Financial support for their families – Children also voiced concerns over the financial situation in their families. Many parents lost their jobs during the pandemic, and some children on the calls lost members of their families due to the coronavirus. Because in many countries there are (formal or informal) fees to access education, students asked for scholarships or waiving of fees to support their education. They also asked for help to their parents who lost their sources of income and find them jobs.

“I would like to ask the President to make more changes to student finance. For example, that in all schools in Colombia we can go to school and learn how to save, and how to manage expenses. And also make better investments in students’ finances.” – Alison from Colombia.

Looking forward – Building a future

As the pandemic continues, students are asking their government leaders and other decisionmakers to listen to them and address their needs and those of their families. What they are asking for is very reasonable. They are demanding their right to access quality and relevant education, they are asking for help to reduce their anxiety, and they are asking for help in taking care of the finances of their parents and caregivers.

The children are pleading to governments, international organisations, NGOs, community leaders, schools, teachers to collaborate and cooperate in order to make sure that their future continuous today!
Aflatoun and its partners will intensify their efforts to provide children and young people with the knowledge and skills to build resiliency and improve their lives. Let’s all work together to assist them with their straightforward requests, let’s help them prepare for a hopeful future now!

Being at home for so many months felt constricting since people of my age could not do things we were used to doing before. During the whole time, I was thinking about when this pandemic would end. Looking at it now, I would say that this pandemic is not an easy fight. And it is not only a fight within us but a fight for all people around the globe. As we see the pandemic from different perspectives in different countries, everything could end with one thought, that if we work together and fight this pandemic as one, we can indeed heal from it.” – Aiman from the Philippines.

Let’s work together, as Aiman said, to Share, Inspire, Empower!

We want to thank all children and youth who participated in the calls with us, and we want to thank all our network partners who made it possible:

Fundación AMG – Guatemala
Fundacion CFA – Colombia
Fundación EDUCA México, A.C.
Nuestra Escuela – Puerto Rico
Plan International – Brazil
Programa Oportunidades, Fundación Gloria de Kriete – El Salvador

BRAC – Bangladesh
Be Better – China
Children International Kolkata – India
Children International Delhi – India
Meljol – India
Childfund – International
Humana Child Aid Society Sabah – Malaysia
Primary Education Project Pakistan
NATCCO – Philippines
Children International Manila – Philippines
Children International Bicol – Philippines
Room to Read Sri Lanka
Network for Education Children and Youth – Sri Lanka

Junior Achievement Zimbabwe
Ministry of Basic Education of The Gambia
Savana Signatures – Ghana
Programme Education Financiere (PEF) – Ivory Coast
La Fédération des syndicats de l’éducation nationale (FESEN) – Togo
Association pour la Defense des Enfants du Niger (ADENI) – Niger
Cadre de Concertation des ONG et Associations actives en Education de Base Burkina Faso (CCEB_BF) – Burkina Faso

Middle East & North Africa
Mobaderoon – Syria
Enda inter-arabe – Tunisia
Life Vision for Development – Egypt
For All Foundation – Yemen

Europe and Central Asia
“Children of Armenia Charitable” Fund – Armenia
Nadácia otvorenej spoločnosti Bratislava / Open Society Foundation / NOS-OSF – Slovakia
Association Students Lab – Italy
Ministry of Education and Sciences of Ukraine
ORAV – Turkey