Most of us in Bangladesh assume that youths are incapable of impacting our communities with their works or ideas. It has been said so often that we ourselves have started to take it for a fact. Even I, during lockdowns, have sought solace in a digitized world created by Netflix to distract myself from the rampant devastations of Covid-19 and live vicariously through the exciting on-screen lives of people my age. As it turns out, I was not alone.
According to a study conducted by Unicef among young individuals between 13 and 29, months after the Covid-19 outbreak, "27% reported feeling anxiety and 15% depression in the last seven days. What's more, 46% reported having less motivation to do activities they usually enjoyed, and 36% felt less motivated to do regular chores."
In another survey by BRAC Institute of Governance and Development (BIGD), hours studied by students in Bangladesh have been reduced by 80% upon closure of schools. Now, instead of studying 10 hours a day, students study a much lower two hours a day on average. This leaves us with a lot of free time, but the nature of this free time is not always healthy.
Statistically, depression, drug use, suicidal ideation, social media, and gaming addiction stand among the numerous symptoms arising from seeing the world crumble around you and sitting helpless. But after a year of mind-numbing hibernation, I was ready to ask myself, "instead of enriching the billion-dollar streaming services and gaming platforms designed to eat up my time, why not actually engage in something for the betterment of my community?"
Well, I realised that as youths, we have the capacity to impact as many people as we want to. If we can motivate ourselves out of the Covid-19 induced rut, we can easily influence our friends and families to do the same. For example, if each youth per household can be the whistleblower and watchdog in their home, ensuring that masks are being worn correctly, hands are being washed at least 20 seconds at a time, and their Covid-positive family members are quarantining safely, the snowball effect would not only be monumental but effectively stop the transmission at the source.
For my part, I conducted a whole household and entire community field survey within Mirpur of 27 household owners, 27 youth, 25 guards, and 20 waste pickers. While the baseline survey I conducted within my home and local community has demonstrated a microcosmic representation, it also revealed a prevailing sense of negligence that currently exists in the minds of everyone.
Upon review, I have found that the majority of the people in my community verbally acknowledge the threats of the virus but in action, they fail to mitigate its transmission. For example, while all youth claim to be aware of Covid-19, nearly 100% leave the house every few days and 63.3% still leave the house every day without wearing masks. Not to mention, those respondents who need PPE the most lack the finances to afford it.
If you want to learn about my journey, the results of my findings, and the specific points of intervention I implemented in my own home, please visit shorturl.at/cjruR.
Now NGOs can only provide so much awareness building, and the government can only dish out vaccines so fast. Even as they do, with new variants on the horizon, the only proper way to escape infection is for everyone to do their part in keeping their respective communities safe. Even if our families seem uncooperative, as the next generation of decision-makers, we owe it to ourselves as well as a future society to break out of our senile sloth-hood and combat this virus head-on.
Can more be done?
Immediate action should be taken by schools, colleges, universities, and other institutions to provide teachers as well as tutors with the proper Covid-19 prevention training. This will enable students to learn how to safeguard themselves and their communities. Moreover, local authorities should promote the segregation of Covid-19 infected waste (i.e., organic, inorganic, and infectious) alongside providing proper capacity-building training to waste workers.
And with the widespread use of mobile apps, nothing is free of automation; from food delivery to education to bank transfers, everything has a digital framework. So, why not use this framework to fight this pandemic by developing a sort of local database that charts out cases of Covid-19 positive persons within a particular area?
Governments, CBOs, NGOs, and the private sector can join hands to reach out to a broader population base. This activity can be spearheaded by youth ambassadors recruited and registered by the government. Their tasks may include uploading Covid-positive results into the database as well as sending alerts within their local community with an interactive map so social distancing measures can be optimised.
Youth can also communicate through a moderated server to have scheduled meetings where they can share new ideas to mitigate Covid-19, as well as provide mental support to one another through the hardships of isolation. In this way, the youth can be supplied with government-approved merit certificates for recognition and save their community from Covid-19 at the same time.
For Bangladesh, this is the perfect time for youths to take action and who knows, perhaps the intervention of today's adults-in-the-making will leave a substantial impact on tomorrow's adolescents who have not experienced a world before Covid-19.
Shamel Sinha is an International Baccalaureate Student of Agakhan School of Dhaka, a Yale Young Global Scholar (YYGS), and is associated with Waste Concern as an Intern.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of The Business Standard.