International Youth Day Celebrating Youth Innovation and Resilience

The world as we know has changed. We are still in the grip of a global pandemic. These are challenging times, but we must not lose hope.

On the occasion of International Youth Day 2021, UNFPA celebrates young change champions standing out as beacons of hope, reshaping and reorienting India and the world in new and innovative ways.

These are stories of changemakers across UNFPA programmes who have made exceptional contributions through their unwavering spirit and grit by mobilising themselves to serve their community, thus proving to be an invaluable support system.

When the youth get going, change starts showing

March 2021 witnessed the devastating second wave of COVID-19 in India. It had severe consequences in the form of spiralling cases, reduced supplies of drugs and equipment necessary for treatment, and limited access to menstrual supplies.

Chanchal Namdev, a 19-year-old college student and peer educator from the Chhatarpur District of Madhya Pradesh under the UNFPA and REC Foundation supported programme Samriddhi (a project designed to enhance the health, social and economic well-being of adolescent girls) showed exceptional leadership during this difficult time.

“To generate awareness on Covid-19 guidelines, protocols and Covid appropriate behaviours, I drew wall paintings and made rangoli designs (Indian folk art) throughout my village. I wrote slogans and compositions encouraging people to get vaccinated”, said Chanchal.

“Furthermore, using my sewing machine at home, I made 50 masks every day for the underprivileged, also educating them on their correct usage”, Chanchal recalled.

During the lockdown, college and school admissions proved to be a huge challenge for girls in Chanchal’s district, with many discontinuing their higher studies, or dropping out.

A final year college student herself, Chanchal knew she needed to do something.

“I am a firm believer in education for girls… it is the single most effective tool to make our youth empowered enough to make a real and sustainable difference. I persuaded family members and the girls themselves not to lose hope, and facilitated the college admission of 10 young girls in my village”, said Chanchal with pride.

An adolescent girl with a packet of sanitary napkins distributed through the Samriddhi Project in Madhya Pradesh

Periods do not stop for pandemics, and neither did Chanchal’s efforts!

With closure of schools, on which many depended to access menstrual hygiene products, adolescents and young girls in Chanchal’s community could not access safe menstrual hygiene products. Chanchal mobilized and inspired local authorities and her peer members to provide sanitary napkins, iron tablets and iron syrup to each household.

“Due to my sustained effort and support by Samriddhi, I delivered 550 sanitary napkins, and today 100% adolescents and young girls in my village use menstrual hygiene products”, said Chanchal on this stupendous accomplishment.

Resilience reaps rewards

19-year-old Manish Mishra from village Ramgarh (Chhatarpur District, Madhya Pradesh) is a volunteer under UNFPA and REC Foundation's Saathiya programme (an intervention designed to create a new league of adolescent health peer educators, called Saathiya or companion).

India began its Covid-19 vaccination programme in a phased manner in January 2021.

Vaccines provide immunity and protect from the severity of infection. It is therefore critical to get vaccinated against COVID -19, in order to safeguard ourselves, our family, friends and community. On May 1, the Government of India extended the vaccination programme to all above 18 years of age as a step towards containing the deadly second wave.

“There were several people in my village who did not have complete and accurate information about the Covid-19 vaccine…they were afraid, had many doubts…rumours, myths and misconceptions were widespread because of which people were hesitant to get vaccinated”, recalled Manish.

Manish and his fellow Saathiyas went home-to-home to generate awareness about the efficacy of Covid-19 vaccines, wrote slogans, and counselled people to get vaccinated.

“I got 40 people vaccinated and even accompanied them to the vaccination centre. I am proud to say that in our village Ramgarh, almost 70% people are now vaccinated!”.

“Initially when I went campaigning, people would turn me away, and some even got upset with me. I felt terrified of getting affected with Covid…however for the good of the community, I forged ahead and did not lose morale. Slowly, people started appreciating my hard work and initiative, and I was recognized as a change champion in my community”, said Manish with pride.

The village of Ramgarh is respected and acknowledged in the entire district as a model for achieving a high rate of vaccination.

“I do not live for myself; I live for my community and for my society”, Manish concluded.

An appetite for change - combating food insecurity

22-year-old Raunak from Dongri, Rajasthan, is a change champion under UNFPA and REC Foundation's Naubat Baja intervention (an edutainment programme to generate awareness on social issues).

During the lockdown, a number of the underprivileged in the slum communities of Dongri were unable to access rations and faced food shortage.

“I was deeply moved by the plight and condition of those who did not have enough to eat and were struggling to acquire daily rations”, said Raunak pensively.

Raunak immediately sprang into action.

She mobilized herself and her team to distribute food supplies to slum dwellers from her own house, and even went home-to-home distributing food stock within the slum community, providing subsistence to over 25 households.

“I also learnt that many in the slum community were unaware of how to protect themselves from Covid-19 and did not understand safety protocols. I informed them about the disease, its harmful effects and how it was necessary to protect themselves and those around them”, she said.

Raunak educated them about how to correctly wear masks, maintain social distance, and ensure hand hygiene. Many did not even have masks…Raunak made innumerable masks herself and distributed them in the community.

A true Covid warrior who strove not just to end food insecurity but also created awareness about the disease.

These stories are a testament to the innovative spirit of youth, and their resilience and courage in a crisis, and we applaud each one of them.

Youth is a crucial phase of life when one is full of idealism, empathy and a yearning for a brighter future. UNFPA believes in giving young people all the right platforms to grow and develop - through education and exposure to opportunities that can truly change their lives. And young people, in turn, can change the world!