Face to Face with COVID-19

Mar 2021

Exploring practical examples of adaptation measures implemented by youth organizations

Summary: The article demonstrates the steps organizations followed to adapt their youth work and educational tools in times of COVID 19, and provides examples from different organizations and adaptations done to spaces, logistics, methodologies, content and topics.

It was more than one year ago when it all started. At the beginning we were all waiting for life to go back to its normal state. We were in denial until we realized that this is not ending soon, so how do we cope? Our daily life changed. The pandemic did not spare any sector and youth work was one of the many sectors affected.

Youth organizations went through a three steps process to respond to the pandemic.

 

Assessing Capacities

Once organizations realized that the pandemic would last, they started assessing their internal capacities, and the needs of the youth they work with.  The questions organizations needed to answer included: Can we continue operations? Which projects do we have to cancel, postpone, or adapt? Do we have the capacities to adapt? Do youth have new needs we can cater for?

 

Developing Capacities

Developing the capacities of the organization, youth workers and youth to be able to stay active in the new normal was needed. Most organizations shifted to online work and some needed to capacitate their youth workers and youth on using online platforms and ensuring the organizations have accounts for these platforms.

 

 

Acting, Reacting and Adapting

Depending on organizations fields of work, adaptation was done to one or more of the following aspects:

·       Space and logistics: for organizations who were able to continue their face to face activities, adaptation was related to logistics and new governmental hygiene and safety.

·       Methodology: shifting youth work online required transforming activities from face to face to online setting. Youth workers learned how to use online platforms and offered youth support in also operation and having access to these platforms. A major challenge was finding the right time and days for youth to join online activities, youth who were already overwhelmed with schooling online. In addition, a new inclusion aspect raised related to youth in rural areas with no access to internet.

·       Topics and content of activities: for some organizations adapting the content of activities was also important since youth expressed new needs related to mental health and stress management. Organizations also had new needs related to ensuring online safety.

How were these steps translated on grassroot practical level?

Adapting an ESC (European Solidairyt Corps) project to an “Online Youth Club”

Antonio Benaches, board member at AC AMICS Spain, was hosting ESC volunteers when the pandemic started. Adaptation for the organization focused on methodology. Volunteers left when the pandemic situation got worse. Once it became possible to re-activate ESC projects online, the organization built the concept of an “Online Youth Club” to be launched on 1 March 2020. This online club will offer a weekly program of activities that will include online fitness, english conversations, arts, recycling, and cooking to be prepared and delivered by the volunteers from their home country.

Initiating a Youth Support Programme

Angela Edwards, youth and community manager at the High Oak Youth and Community Center in dudley UK explained that they started adapting their interventions in May 2020. They created a youth support programme offering young people mental, physical, and educational support. In addition they organized outdoor activties in small groups like biking and walk and talk, which was needed and helped youth in consuming their energy through healthy activities.

Transferring projects activities online, and responding to youth psychological needs

Fadi Tabet, president of Chabibeh Club Lebanon, was following up on the implementation of a Youth Project on Sexual Health and Substance use. The project engaged youth in training workshops and supported them in designing and implementing awareness activities for their peers. When the pandemic started and a total lockdown was imposed, the youth were not able to proceed with the intended initiatives. Supported by youth leaders, youth converted their ideas into online games using KAHOOT. The objective of the games were to raise awareness and provide accurate information on the topics in a fun entertaining way.

In addition, youth leaders did an online survey targeting youth to understand their needs in the current situation. Stress management and mental health support were mentioned by all, so Chabibeh Club collaborated with other organizations and specialists to offer online psychosocial support.

Online meetings led to a “Youth Organizations Hub”

Jasmina Banjaluckic youth policy and youth work expert at the Institute for Youth Development KULT, in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) explained that they started organizing online meetings for youth organizations to understand and define their needs and how youth councils can cooperate. In BiH there are three youth councils who never had any common initiative before 2020. These initial meetings led to the first ever common initiative of youth councils in BiH, the "youth organizations hub" where challenges and solutions for further cooperation were exchanged. The initiative was sent to the Ministry of Civil Affairs with the aim to establish the Commission for the Coordination of Youth Issues in BiH. This Commission would be the only body that exist on the state level tackling youth issues.

Logistic adaptations to ongoing activities

KENA association based in Belgium organizes summer and holiday camps for children from 8 to 16. Joke Van Dooren volunteer board member, camp leader and trainer explained that the government developped a good strategy through a dialogue with experts and youth organizations. The strategy included measures related to group sizes and hygiene. Based on that KENA was able to implement the summer camps and the adapatation was related to decreasing the group size to 50 by creating bubbles and increasing hygiene: cleaning and disinfecting the showers and rooms, no contact in the kitchen, wearing masks, and providing hand gel continuously.

Capacitating organizations and developping “Ethics in Digital Settings”

It is clear that there are many online platforms available and deciding which one to use may be confusing. NAPOR, the National Association of Youth Workers in Serbia with 49 members, had a solution for that. During the interview with Bojana Stojkovic, NAPOR programme coordinator, Bojana said: “We immediately transferred our work online. NAPOR with European partners already had a guide “Online Training of Youth Workers Manual”. This guide was used to offer members training workshops on how to use online platforms, which platform is best for each kind of activity (Brainstorming, evaluation etc..) and how to replace face to face activities with online ones. Since some member organizations were small with limited resources, NAPOR provided them with accounts on online platforms.

QUESTIONS TO THE READERS

The pandemic is expected to last for at least another year:

  • What do you need as a youth worker to pursue your work in this new normal?
  • How can youth survive more years away from socializing and interacting face to face?
  • What support would they need?

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