We’re now two years into the COVID-19 pandemic. I don’t know about you but, whilst there feels like there could be some light at the end of this very long tunnel, I’m not feeling as optimistic as I’d hoped to feel at this point. I think many of us walked into 2022 with trepidation and nervousness. We were weary from having to isolate from friends and family, trying to navigate public health restrictions, and living with the fear that someone we love will get infected or the pain of losing someone who has. And now, we’re also watching the Russian invasion of Ukraine with horror, worrying about the children and families who are in grave danger.
What troubles me most is how children and young people are being impacted by these crises. In just the first days of this horrific war in Ukraine, the UN reported that 13 children had already been killed. Kids, including newborn babies, have had to leave their homes to hide in bomb shelters, flee their country, and say goodbye to parents who are joining the fight against the Russian army.
From school closures to mental health struggles to an increase in poverty, the COVID-19 pandemic has also had, and continues to have, a disproportionate impact on the youngest generation.
Whilst some children have returned to school – albeit amid continued disruptions and uncertainty – others still don’t have access to traditional classrooms. At the end of January 2022, more than 616 million students worldwide were still impacted by full or partial school closures, according to UNICEF. The loss of learning has been devastating. The World Bank has warned that the global health crisis could increase the percentage of 10-year-olds in low- and middle-income countries who can’t read a basic text to roughly 70 percent.
Of course, the pandemic’s impacts extend far beyond education. The global health crisis has led to a record increase in child poverty as families around the world continue to struggle financially.
I also worry about the struggles that are less visible. The pandemic has created a children’s mental health crisis, leading to high rates of anxiety and depression among young people, as well as loneliness and isolation.
I do have hope though. And this hope comes from incredible young people and local leaders working tirelessly every day to help their communities. Young people like the volunteers with GFC partner Homies Unidos in Los Angeles, who have helped distribute free groceries to families in need – just amazing. And young people like the graduates from a home for street children in Bangladesh run by our partner LEEDO who have organized events to distribute food and raise awareness about the issues impacting kids living on the streets – how inspiring are they?
I’m also heartened by the inventive work of GFC’s partners to ensure kids have access to education amid pandemic-related disruptions. In Kenya, for example, Oasis Mathare invented a text message tool to help children with limited internet access get their classwork whilst schools were closed. Wow.
And I’m grateful to the GFC partners who have found creative ways to improve kids’ mental health and address COVID trauma. Groups like Legis in North Macedonia, which organized hikes with therapists for migrant children and youth living in camps, and Suprava Panchashila Mahila Uddyog Samity in India, which has teamed up with a GFC alumni partner to offer Dance Movement Therapy to the young people it serves. I am so inspired by these amazing groups who care so deeply for the children in their communities.
GFC has supported these efforts and others by providing flexible financial support to our partners, including emergency grants from our COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund. Since March 2020, we’ve issued more than $3.3 million in emergency grants to community-based organizations responding to the pandemic, including $2.5 million through the Phoenix Fund for Black, Asian, and minority ethnic organizations in England.
We’ve also reacted quickly to the crisis in Ukraine, sending emergency funds to our local partners who are mobilizing to provide food, warm clothing, fuel, and safe shelter to children and families under attack and to refugees fleeing the country. I’m deeply humbled by the courage of the young people in Ukraine who are gathering supplies for families in need, mobilizing volunteer groups, and bravely telling the world what is happening on the ground. We will continue to find ways to safely tell their stories, so their voices continue to be heard.
Beyond our emergency response, we’ve created new opportunities for young people to take an active role in grantmaking. We’ve partnered with the Avast Foundation to launch the Spark Fund, which invests in youth-led and youth-focused groups worldwide. Youth panels in different regions are designing and leading grantmaking for the fund. A youth panel made up of young people from Europe and Eurasia has already chosen 12 organizations in its region that will receive Spark Fund grants.
As we look toward the rest of the year, we’re finding more ways to prioritize young people’s needs. Among other issues, we’re focusing on supporting children facing barriers to educational success that have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, helping them to access and thrive in learning environments that prepare them for the future.
Join us in supporting children and young people through this difficult time and in helping them to emerge from these crises with new opportunities and bright futures. If you want to make a donation directly to our Ukraine emergency efforts, you can do so here.
And as we work together to meet ongoing challenges, don’t forget to show yourself kindness and compassion. Celebrate your resilience and strength during these past two years and take a moment to recognize yourself as the amazing human you are. We are often the last person we are kind to – I implore you to show yourself grace and continue to tell yourself: I am worthy, I am enough, and I am doing a great job.
Hayley Roffey, Managing Director
Global Fund for Children (GFC) UK Trust, created in 2006, is a UK registered charity (UK charity number 1119544). We work to generate vital income, create new fundraising opportunities, and raise awareness of the invaluable work of GFC’s grassroots grantees. Our aim is to extend the reach of GFC in the United Kingdom, Europe, and beyond.
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