12 August 2020

International Youth Day: Q&A With Dr. Natasha Kaoma

This International Youth Day, Every Woman Every Child celebrates young peoples’ action and involvement in making a difference in their communities. To learn more about the challenges facing youth during COVID-19—and how they are adapting and leading—we interviewed Dr. Natasha Kaoma. Dr. Kaoma is CEO and founder of Copper Rose Zambia and the youth representative on EWEC’s High-Level Steering Group.

1. What are some of the challenges that youth in particular are facing now due to COVID-19?

Young people right now are facing a plethora of challenges due to the pandemic. One of the the biggest challenges is education. While developed countries have moved to an online learning platform, many young people in rural areas have no access to online platforms due to a lack of infrastructure and equipment for online learning. The average youth in these areas has no phone and has limited access to the internet. The long-term impact of this will be that young people will remain behind drastically, as far as education is concerned and the effect persists long after the pandemic has occurred.

Because of the lockdown, there has been a reduction in the functionality of youth-friendly spaces where they can access reproductive health information and services. Despite government efforts to keep healthcare centres working as close to normal as possible, young people still have reduced access to reproductive health services because they are simply afraid to go near healthcare centres, as they are most likely to come into contact with COVID patients who may be seeking treatment. The long term sequelae will be the occurrence of unplanned pregnancies.

2. This year, the International Youth Day theme is “Youth Engagement for Global Action,” which focuses on youth engagement in the local, national and global levels. Why is this theme so important?

This theme is very important because for a long time now, “youth engagement” has been a phrase thrown around and not followed by local action. I hope that this theme will allow people all around the world to think about what actions they have taken to engage young people meaningfully and that local successes in communities are what leads to national and global change.

3. What does youth engagement at these levels look like?

At the local level in communities, meaningful engagement means bringing young people to the table not only when decisions are being made but also when solutions are being sought because young people do have solutions to their own problems but sometimes may not have the means to execute their ideas. At national levels, it means bringing young people closer to their leaders not only when it’s time for voting or making political gains but also providing a listening ear so that their thoughts, ideas and needs can be heard. Lastly at global level, meaningful youth engagement could also mean accountability. There are many declarations and petitions that have been made and many institutions have signed on but there has been no follow through as far as action is concerned.

4. What are some innovative ways that you have seen youth responding to the challenges of COVID?

Young people are using social media to cope and deal with their mental health. During the pandemic, young people have higher chances of facing anxiety, depression and other mental health challenges because their usual activities such as school and socializing are not allowed in many countries. Youth-led organizations like Copper Rose are responding to young people in rural areas through radio and digital platforms in order to bring closer the digital divide in rural areas where smartphones are more inaccessible. Young people are mobilizing others and donating food items, masks and other materials  to those in need.