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COVID-19: A Lesson to Remember | Youth Perspectives

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Written by: Shomy Hasan Chowdhury

Since the world went into quarantine, I have gone through a whirlwind of emotions, thoughts and reflections on life in general. Among all of them, three things have stood out the most.

Firstly, acknowledging our privileges, and being grateful. This pandemic has been an eye-opener, in showing what truly matters. I could draw a strong connection between my years of Water Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) advocacy to the current scenario. My work as a WASH activist involves going out there at the grassroots level, raising awareness on key WASH aspects, bringing those stories and experiences to the world leaders, and influencing them to increase investment on the WASH sector.

COVID19 has been a testimony to the power of just that. When we have better access to WASH, we can save ourselves from not only COVID19, but also many other preventable diseases such as flu, diarrhea, Neglected Tropical Diseases like Dengue Fever and more. We have seen massive campaigns on hand-washing via a range of media during this time, and looking back at my experiences of working with the most hard-to-reach communities who are in extreme-poverty, I realized being able to wash hands and maintain social distance are privileges that we took for granted.

I have worked with sex-workers, sewerage workers, people with disabilities, under-resourced school children, homeless people, slum dwellers, and more. And all these people, having no source of income during lockdown and no extra savings to live on, are more afraid of dying from hunger than the coronavirus. Furthermore, May’s super cyclone Amphan, which caused widespread damage in Eastern India and Bangladesh and the ongoing floods since have caused major devastation.

All of these events have led me to truly reflect on how privileged we are to be able to stay at home and obey key safety measures. I hope our decision makers will take this as a learning experience and shift additional focus to what I have advocated for much of my life: prioritizing simple but life saving measures that affect so many vulnerable people in countries across the world.

Shomy

The second thing I recognized was the significance of looking after our emotional wellbeing. This pandemic has brought a huge toll on young and vulnerable people’s mental health. Coming from a background where mental health is not given the highest regard, it has been a hot topic during this pandemic. Working from home, coping with restrictions and uncertainty, lack of human connection – all these significantly affect our mental state. The flood of information on the internet and the staggering death tolls and infection rates around the world made my early days of quarantine more stressful than I had anticipated. I gradually got a hold of things and adjusted myself to the new normal that is 2020. I learned how much active listening, even from a distance, may mean to someone struggling emotionally.

Lastly, I have reaffirmed my faith in the power of young people, and the need to possess the skills of resilience. We as a generation should always prepare ourselves to be adaptive and bounce back during challenging times. We must know how to find strength during adversity. During this pandemic, young people have provided an excellent demonstration of taking positive actions and helping those in need. For instance, my organization Awareness 360, launched the COVID19 Fundraiser for Sex Workers in Bangladesh, giving hundreds of them one month’s food and hygiene goods amid the crisis. However, right before the distribution day, my co-founder Rijve Arefin, got infected by COVID19 himself. His case became serious due to his previous medical complications.

WASH

Our team was shattered, and feared the worst. But there were hundreds of hungry people, waiting for our arrival, who are so stigmatized that they cannot even go out of their confined brothel to seek help. We decided to continue our mission without Rijve, who was leading the initiative from its beginning. It was an example of how we needed to be resilient, and give our best despite significant challenges. Thankfully, Rijve made a recovery from COVID-19 and we ended the project successfully, and are now working on launching the next drive.

Shomy and Rijve

Meanwhile, since all our in-person projects were halted due to the pandemic, our members were running out of motivation and focus. We introduced the Awareness 360 Facebook Live Series, featuring outstanding young people from all 6 continents hosting skills and discussion based sessions to keep our members occupied. We have already hosted over 70 sessions and are receiving great feedback! We learned to be flexible, make the best out of circumstances, and remain focused on the outcomes we are committed to and the change we seek to make in the world.

COVID19 has proved how something as tiny as a virus does not differentiate based on which country we are from, or who we are. Looking forward, in so many ways, this has been a dress rehearsal of the drastic impact of climate change that we are bringing upon ourselves. Echoing this year’s International Youth Day theme “youth engagement for global action,” I hope that post-COVID young people will be meaningfully engaged at a local, national and global level leading to a faster and more efficient realization of the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda in the pursuit of a world free from extreme poverty.

ABOUT SHOMY CHOWDHURY

Shomy Chowdhury is Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) activist, Founding Co-Chair of youth organization Awareness 360, and friend and supporter of Comic Relief US and Red Nose Day. Learn more.

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