Young cyclists in Kosovo deliver 600+ reusable masks to 200 Albanian, Serbian, Roma and Ashkali families in Lipjan/Lipljan.

Young people who are shaping the COVID-19 response with UN Peacekeeping

UN Peacekeeping
Dec 15, 2020 · 11 min read

By: Idil Uner

Six years ago, the UN Security Council unanimously adopted resolution 2250 (UNSCR 2250) — the first multilateral policy framework that acknowledges “the important and positive contribution of youth in efforts for the maintenance and promotion of peace and security.”

This monumental resolution marked a fundamental shift in the understanding of who young people are and their role for peace and security. UNSCR 2250 urged Member States to give youth — defined as persons between 18 and 29 years old — a greater voice in decision-making at the local, national, regional and international levels, and to consider setting up mechanisms that would enable young people to participate meaningfully in peace processes.

On the occasion of Peacekeepers’ Day 2021, we are highlighting how youth are working to build a culture of peace and resolve in the hope of preventing and helping put an end to conflict. Filled with passion and fueled by their genuine motivation to change the world, youth have continued working hard to secure peace despite the ongoing challenges posed by COVID-19 restrictions.

On a virtual journey to four of our missions, we spoke with young people on their critical role in promoting peace, preventing the spread of COVID-19 and how UN Peacekeeping has supported this agenda.

The UN mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) supported young innovators and volunteers to make and distribute face shields and masks.

Young people across Kosovo joined forces to protect their communities and frontline workers, as the number of COVID-19 cases were rising.

“We have come together to fight a common enemy, COVID-19,” Marko Rakić told us. Marko, who is 30 years old and lives in Mitrovica, is the founder of LINK, an organization that works in the field of innovation, culture and media. LINK trains youth by giving them the opportunity to acquire new skills, with the aim of improving conditions in both North and South Mitrovica.

“We believe that in a city that has been divided for 20 years, young people want their chance, regardless of ethnicity or religion,” he said. “Young people who get to know their neighbours by participating in our activities are shifting their perspectives, connecting and overcoming fears, stereotypes and prejudices.”

Marko said the virus “was scary, spreading everywhere,” with the news heightening anxieties. With support from the UNMIK Mitrovica Regional Office, LINK was able to respond to immediate needs and develop protective visors using 3D printers.

The idea was born when Marko met two young Albanian doctors during a TV broadcast on ‘Life in Kosovo — Innovation and Creativity in Pandemic Times.’ After recording the show, they realized how they could work together to serve their community. “The point is that the pandemic contributed to physical distancing, but it connected us in new ways,” Marko noted.

The young innovators produced and distributed 15,000 visors to multiple health centres in Kosovo, both in the North and South municipalities. “We believe we have made a big contribution to the fight against COVID-19 by making and donating protective visors for hospitals in [many difference areas],” Marko underscored.

Jovan Živković, a young leader from Vitina who is the executive director of the Center for Cultural Diversity and Minority Development (CCDMD) and founder of SMAART Klokot/Kllokot Multi-Ethnic Youth Center, helped bring together Kosovo Albanian and Kosovo Serb youth to produce the 3D-printed face shields for the first time.

He said he is hopeful that UN Peacekeeping can continue to prioritize young people as essential partners for peace, and that this could lead to “all institutions seeing young people as partners for designing better futures for all communities.”

With UNMIK’s support, young cyclists in Kosovo were also involved in the delivery of more than 600 reusable masks to 200 Albanian, Serbian, Roma and Ashkali families in Lipjan/Lipljan. Bestar Krasniqi, a 20-year-old student from this municipality, was aware that “a lot of people could not even afford a non-reusable mask, let alone a reusable one.”

But he told us the young cyclists were happy to help: “Out of everything I have done so far in my life, this initiative is maybe one of the things I am most proud of. It was especially great that this activity was a way for different ethnicities to work together. We learned that when there is a will, there will always be a solution.”

“Creating a team of motivated young people who are driven by the will of doing good was the first step towards bringing people with different backgrounds and nationalities together,” said Senad Ramani, a local coordinator with the United Youth Task Force — T.R.A.I.N Project. He also gathered a multi-ethnic team of young people with whom he implemented the distribution of masks in Prizren, and raised awareness on COVID-19 measures.

“Diversity brings out the best in all teams,” he stressed, adding that young people “keep the ball rolling while taking the obstacles as a challenge, not as a problem.”

The UN mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) launched a community sensitization campaign supporting young taxi-motorcyclist drivers.

In the town of Bria, the capital of Haute-Kotto prefecture in the Central African Republic, ten young taxi-motorcyclists were trained by MINUSCA between April and June 2020 on informing the public about preventive measures against the pandemic through changing behaviours, knowing how to recognize symptoms and modes of transmission, and by following guidelines from health authorities.

With megaphones in hand, for two months they crisscrossed the 27 districts and sub-districts of Bria and delivered messages in French and Sango, the local language.

“This campaign was very useful for people,” explained Hamat Al-Habib, the president of the motorcycle taxi group. He said in each neighbourhood, they were asked similar questions about how COVID-19 is transmitted and how to stop the spread.

René Samba, the focal point for young people and spokesperson of the Association of Race and Community Leaders, lives in a displaced persons camp known as PK3, which hosts around 50,000 people.

“Thanks to the work of these taxi-motorcycles, my family and I know the barrier measures against COVID-19,” he said. “My five-year-old daughter can recite them as a result of listening to what the motorcycle taxis said in their megaphones every day.”

Like Samba, over 30,000 people, including about 20,000 women, have been impacted by this outreach.

According to the organizers, this unique motorized awareness campaign on COVID-19 also helped strengthen peace and social cohesion between communities, especially since the taxi-motorcyclists repeated that “COVID-19 has no religion, no political party, no race, and no one is immune.”

Today in Bria, MINUSCA reports that many more people are aware of preventive measures and try their best to integrate them into their daily lives. Even in markets where compliance with these measures is still uncertain, water points and hand washing kits are in place to stop the spread of COVID-19.

François Gombahi, a radio producer with the UN mission, witnessed that armed groups operating in the city joined the efforts as well thanks to the sensitization campaign. To him, this indicated that “the UN Secretary General’s message on the cessation of hostilities during COVID-19 seems to have been heard in Bria.”

The campaign was part of MINUSCA’s country-wide efforts to sensitize and inform local authorities, community, religious, women, youth and civil society leaders about COVID-19 and how to stop its spread.

The UN mission in Cyprus (UNFICYP) organized a youth-led online discussion and helped form a young group as part of a bi-communal initiative on environment and peace.

In Cyprus, UNFICYP organized a youth project called “Famagusta students together,” an initiative that brings high-school students from both Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot communities together to promote dialogue and to discover what they have in common.

Mustafa Ongun, UNFICYP’s Associate Civil Affairs Officer based in Pyla, a village where Turkish and Greek Cypriots live together, is one of the staff responsible for organizing the project. It kicked off earlier this year, but only one meeting was held in person before the onset of the pandemic. The Mission had to quickly shift its approach to ensure the project could continue online.

“When we started, we planned for a group of 20 young people to join the conversations, ten from each community. However, the number is likely to increase in the next meetings,” said Mustafa, who is pleased that more students can now join from other parts of the island.

For Famagusta students like Yassine Chagh, an 18-year-old Moroccan who came to Cyprus to pursue his university studies in electronic engineering, the pandemic was an opportunity to connect with people on cultural topics as well.

“[COVID-19] gave me an opportunity to be inspired by my friends and by the people I met online,” he highlighted, adding that new ideas on books and recipes helped him stay motivated and active.

UNFICYP also selected a group of 24 Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots to become Youth Champions in support of the environment and peace on the island. Since the beginning of the pandemic, this group of young women and men has also been meeting virtually to develop initiatives that will engage both communities to care for the planet.

Polymnia Glykeriou, a 27-year-old Greek Cypriot who lives in Larnaca, has always been passionate about environmental issues. With a master’s degree in Environmental and Chemical Engineering, she is eager to expand her network.

“I usually discuss with my family, share what I learn with friends and now, with this group, we can exchange ideas, and I notice we have a lot more in common than just our passion for the environment,” she said, adding that even though they had to limit physical contact, current conditions allowed them to bond in a special and lasting way.

In September, the group met for the first time in person to continue to develop their ideas on how to engage both communities on the island to promote the protection of the environment.

The UN mission in Mali (MINUSMA) undertook an awareness campaign through the youth radio station and launched a COVID-19 sensitization Quick Impact Project with vulnerable communities.

Through the Regional and Communal Council, the youth of Gao, a city in the North of Mali, helped with the publication of audiovisual testimonials about COVID-19. These were produced in partnership with traditional leaders and other regional influencers, who encouraged communities to adopt barrier measures against the virus. They were published on their web platforms, and aired on the youth radio station “La Voix des Jeunes et des Enfants” (“The voice of youth and children”).

“We took the awareness campaign head-on through interviews with COVID-19 specialists,” said the radio director, Abdoulaye Toure, who was grateful for the support received from MINUSMA given the radio’s limited resources.

“We are proud to have made the fight against COVID-19 our priority, something that has earned great recognition from our audience.”

MINUSMA provided T-shirts with the slogan “all against COVID-19” to raise awareness about the importance of solidarity in this joint fight.

The Regional Director of Youth and Sports of Gao, Mr. Abdrahamane Cissé, reiterated young people’s important role in countering misinformation about the virus. “Our youth are known to be active members of society and in several occasions, have demonstrated and reaffirmed their civic responsibility,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Regional Youth Council of Gao was able to mobilize young people to distribute masks at markets and at places of high concentration in the main towns. They also installed hand washing kits and loudspeakers to support residents in the city.

Other actors working in the field of development and health, such as the NGOs UAVES and Sahara Santé, will also benefit from a MINUSMA Quick Impact Project aimed at raising awareness among the most vulnerable groups, such as nomadic populations in the region.

At the launch event for the project, Bibata Touré, an 18-year-old student at the Lycée Yana Maiga of Gao, said he benefited from helpful training. “I am following a training of trainers on COVID-19 prevention,” he told us. “I learned about the harmful effects of the virus, and at the same time how to protect myself and others.”

Meanwhile, Seydou Maiga, a 23-year-old volunteer on community mobilization, shared an honest account about his access to information before the project.

“I must admit that I did not realize the gravity of the risks, or the correct prevention I had to adopt,” he shared. “Now, thanks to the community mobilization, I understand much better and I am ready to help our populations to overcome this pandemic.”

Another volunteer, Abdourahame Maiga, who is a 30-year-old artist, said they have come a long way: “Coronavirus? I knew nothing about it. I ignored it entirely. Now with this training, I get to understand what it entails, and I realize the risks if our populations continue to ignore it.”

COVID-19 has posed profound challenges for the lives of millions of people and communities around the world. Its socio-economic impacts have resulted in significant interruptions in every corner of the world for all groups in society and especially for young people.

According to the UN, by 2030 — the date set out to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) — the number of youth is forecasted to be at nearly 1.3 billion worldwide, and the share of Africa’s youth is expected to increase to 42 per cent.

UN Peacekeeping missions around the world are committed to collaborative action — where young people are viewed as equal and essential partners for peace, both during and beyond the pandemic.

This story was originally published by Idil Üner. On the occasion of Peacekeepers’ Day 2021, it is republished in an updated version.

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