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‘Young people as vaccine buddies, fake news police can help India fight Covid-19’: UNICEF India Representative Dr Yasmin Haque

Unicef, with its partners, has launched a pan-India movement called 'Young Warrior Movement; that aims at engaging five million young people to help the country recover from the ongoing COVID-19 crisis.

Written by Saba Rahman | New Delhi |
Updated: June 7, 2021 4:24:03 pm
Covid india situation, Covid-19 india, Yuvaah, Young warrior movement, Covid pandemic, Unicef covid volunteer, Covid crisis, Covid news, Unicef COVID, Covid volunteering, Indian express newsDr Yasmin Ali Haque, UNICEF Representative to India.

As India grapples with the second wave of Covid-19, it is the country’s 300 million young people that hold out the strongest hope in addressing and recovering from the devastating pandemic.

In this context, YuWaah, the India chapter of Generation Unlimited launched by UNICEF in 2018, along with youngsters, the CBSE, Ministry of Education (MoE), Ministry of Youth Affairs (MoYAS) and the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW), has launched a pan-India movement, christened Young Warrior Movement, that aims at engaging five million young people to help the country in the ongoing COVID-19 crisis. The movement also has the support of over 1,350 partners across the civil society, UN agencies and the private sector.

Indianexpress.com spoke with Dr Yasmin Ali Haque, the UNICEF Representative to India, about the recently launched Young Warrior movement, how it aims to engage young people and the various roles they could play at a crucial time like this.

How did UNICEF’s Young Warrior movement start?

The Young Warrior movement is an offshoot of the YuWaah work that we have been doing. YuWaah, which engages youth as active changemakers, was launched in India in 2019. Under that, we have a young people’s action team and they’re the ones who urged us to do more in this pandemic situation.

This idea had an amazing resonance with young people, with government departments and ministries, civil society organisations, UN agencies and the private sector. That really gave us the impetus to start our Young Warrior Movement and I’m really amazed at how fast it is moving.

The Young Warrior Movement also has the support of over 1350+ coalition partners across the civil society, UN agencies and the private sector.

The movement seeks to engage young people in a series of easy and real-life tasks, including promoting access to verified health and essential services, vaccine registration, COVID-19 appropriate behaviours and myth-busting.

What kind of role have you envisaged for the young warriors in India’s recovery from the current Covid crisis?

I’ve been working with Unicef for 25 years now and the core to our work has been how we remain relevant for our constituent — which is children. When we started working on the design of the YuWaah, we did a lot of consultations with young people across India. They were very clear that they must be a part of the design and that they don’t just want to hear from us, they want us to hear from them and take into account what they are saying, and that has made a huge difference.

The ideas that we are getting now are way beyond traditionally what we would have done. The young people had made it very clear to us that they don’t want to be passive participants, they want to lead the charge, lead the movement. And they have helped us define the tasks that they could do when they sign in as a young warrior.

Even as young people are among the most drastically impacted groups, they have proven to be among the most networked and capacitated groups to be leading India out of the current crisis.

Even as young people are among the most drastically impacted groups, they have proven to be among the most networked and capacitated groups to be leading India out of the current crisis. In fact, young people have already been leading action through public advocacy, amplifying messages around COVID-19 appropriate behaviours, and acting as peer counsellors.

What are the tasks that the young warriors are being entrusted with?

There are essentially five tasks that are part of the Young Warrior Movement. One, young people can become a vaccine buddy by promoting vaccination, understanding its registration process, the dos and don’ts after vaccination. A lot of the vaccine hesitancy can be addressed through vaccine buddies.

The second role they can play is that of a stress buster. There are huge mental health problems that people are facing. As a stress buster they can encourage family members, friends, siblings to talk to an expert about mental health problems. With so much negative news floating around, they can also help focus on positive news.

The third task will be to become a ‘fake news police’ to understand the misinformation related to Covid-19 that is out there and how to stop its spread. They can help people tackle their fears much easier than we could in any way.

The fourth role they could really take on is that of a compassionate caregiver. As of now, they are helping their family at home. So as caregivers they can help their ill family members with their breathing exercises, watch out for any danger signs and make sure they are seeking help when needed.

The fifth and a very important role is how they promote youth-led action, which would be to amplify Covid-appropriate behaviour, which is to mask up, sanitise hands and to keep a distance.

These are the ways in which young people can make a difference.

If a young person wants to be a part of the young warriors movement, how do they go about it?

When we started this we thought we had all the systems in place and then our platform started collapsing because so many young people wanted to come in. Even this morning, I got an email from a young person that I can’t register and what do I do about it.

There are various ways of registering with the movement. What they can do is type YWA on WhatsApp and send it to 9650414141 after which they will be taken through a process and registered. Registration can also be done on the Telegram app, where they have to search for ‘UReport India’, click ‘Start’ and follow the registration process.

One can also go directly on ‘UReport India’ Facebook page and click send message, type YWA and hit send. For young people without WhatsApp or internet on their phones, yet another alternative is to give a missed call to 080-66019225 after which they will be guided to an interactive voice response for registration. What they can also do is put out a social media post stating ‘i am a #youngwarrior’ and tag five of your friends on any of your social media accounts. That can also register them as a young warrior. For more information, they can visit yuwaah.org/youngwarrior.

A good number of young people in India don’t have access to internet, and may be not even a smartphone or a phone. So how do you bring such young people into the young warriors movement?

You’re right and that’s why for us it’s really important that we also look at other platforms. We will be involving community radios as a way of doing it. We are running a pan-India community radio campaign, working with 250+ community radios to spread awareness in communities in their local languages and dialects.

If I look at it today, we engage with 100,000+ young people through UReport (an SMS tool launched by UNICEF in rural India), and interactive voice response system. Through our community radio network, we have reached over a million young people, and through our mass media and social media, we have reached out to a total 150 million people across India.

We are using all our channels, whether digital or otherwise, to connect.

Then, we are also using NSF and NYKS networks across India as a way of connecting. One of the more exciting parts is the support of CBSE through which we will be reaching over 24,000 schools across India.

To celebrate the action young people are leading through the movement, young warriors who complete five tasks will receive a certificate of participation and receive reward points on completing each task.

Tell us about your collaborations with various partners?

Over 1,350 partners have pledged their support to this movement and the number is increasing every day. We have UN agencies like UNDP, UNHCR, UNESCO, large and small NGOs as our partners. Then there are the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports, Ministry of Health, Ministry of education, CBSE, Atal Innovation Foundation, which are all government affiliates, who are strongly collaborating around the movement.

From civil society, we have Breakthrough, Digital Empowerment Foundation, Youth for Jobs and many more. Private sector agencies have reached beyond much of what we can imagine.

So, yes, the movement can have a good reach. The contribution of each partner is key if we are to realise our ambitious objective of meaningfully engaging a minimum of 5 million young people from across the country in the next three months.

What is the immediate target of the movement? Where do you see it, say, in three months?

If we look at the next 90 days, we aim to reach 5 million young people/warriors across the country and each one of them we hope is going to be interacting with another 10 people and that will help bring a groundswell of what we’re really trying to engage with or impact 50 million people.

After 90 days, we will regularly check what we hear from young people, what was their experience, what has come out as the emerging need of our constituents. Then we will hopefully have a core group of 5 million young people. They will be part of the movement not only during the Covid crisis in India but also for the future.

My experience with young people is when they’re engaged in civic duty, it also brings into them a mindset which is one of service, which is one of being aware of the situation that vulnerable children face and bringing the voices of their communities to the forefront.

So I think this is the way they can help in that transformation that we are so looking forward to with 450 million young people who are going to be there in India in the coming years. Imagine the contribution they can make to nation-building.

What do you have to say to the young people of the country?

I really am looking forward to the young warriors making a huge dent in a number of areas — in promoting safe behaviour, promoting vaccination, busting myths and misconceptions, taking leadership, and protecting themselves and supporting their families.

Young people have access to the childline (of Ministry of Women and Children) and when they feel they need help, they should seek help. 1098 is what they need to dial. You know it takes courage to do that and I’m sure the young warriors are going to help all their peers in gathering that courage to take action.

India’s young people 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. Young people present an enormous opportunity to transform the future. They are the present and the future changemakers.

At the core of YuWaah is the willingness and capacity to meaningfully engage and listen to young people’s needs, ideas and aspirations. They are the innovators, creators, builders and leaders of the future as well as the present.

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