It’s hard to believe we are already through January 2021. The global coronavirus pandemic is worse than ever. Many countries have reimposed strict lockdowns. New variants of the virus are infecting people at alarming rates. Inequalities continue to grow. And, from Portugal to Brazil to Egypt, our health services are struggling like never before.
At the same time, political instability in 2021 continues to drive fear, separation, and violence in communities around the world. In the United States, insurrection in the Capitol threatened a democratic transition of power and thrust white supremacy back into the spotlight. In Uganda, a pre-election internet blackout cut off the entire country’s access to communication, information, and livelihoods for days. In Guatemala, security forces used batons and tear gas to beat back thousands of migrants seeking refuge from violence and poverty.
It’s not normally so hard to find hope at a time when most are committed to resolutions, goals, and dreams for a new year. Yet for so many of us, 2021 has started like no other year. No matter where you live or what you do, COVID-19 has affected you in some way. But, when I reflect on those most affected, I can’t help but think about the enormous impacts the health and economic crises, restrictions on daily life, and uncertainty about the future are having on young people.
More than 1.6 billion students in over 190 countries have already experienced disruptions to their education, and 24 million children and youth – including more than 11 million girls – may drop out permanently due to the pandemic. The rapid global shift to online learning has also exacerbated the digital divide: two-thirds of school-aged children worldwide have no access to internet at home and are unable to attend virtual classes.
At the same time, the crisis is threatening children’s safety, wellbeing, and mental health. Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, an additional 150 million children have been driven into poverty. A 46-country study by Save the Children found that more than 8 in 10 children have experienced increased negative feelings, and one-third of families have experienced violence at home. Around the world, the community-based organizations we partner with at Global Fund for Children have reported higher rates of early marriage and pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections and HIV, child labor and exploitation, child abuse, and trafficking.
At GFC, we see and recognize these needs. We know that the children of the world are facing a crisis like no other. We know many children are now at risk of not being able to return to school, due to financial pressures on their families and the need to begin working at an earlier age. We know generations of young people are struggling to find work at a time when jobs in industries such as hospitality, travel, and retail are unavailable. We are worried about the long-term mental health consequences for children and youth.
We also recognize that the negative impacts of the crisis are compounded for young people who face existing inequalities related to race, caste, class, gender, and religion.
This is our message for these young people: We see you. We hear you. We believe in you. You are our hope. We want to help.
And we believe the best way to help is to invest in the heart of communities around the world, working with local leaders who are uniquely positioned to respond to the needs of children and youth. This is why we launched a COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund last year to issue flexible grants and nonfinancial support to local organizations serving children affected by the pandemic. Since March 2020, we’ve disbursed more than $627,000 in emergency grants to more than 130 organizations working with young people across 38 countries.
Our community-based partners have quickly adapted to meet the emergency needs of young people and found creative ways to continue providing crucial services amid pandemic restrictions. In Nepal, one group dedicated to preventing human trafficking began covering rent, medical expenses, and cooking gas for struggling families. In the United Kingdom, a community resource center offered counseling sessions outdoors on park benches. In Mexico and India, local organizations launched radio programs to share vital information about the pandemic and child abuse prevention. These organizations, and many others, are also starting to plan for a future after COVID-19.
Even when the pandemic finally fades, we should not expect young people to accept a return to the world’s pre-pandemic status quo. The pandemic and widespread protests in 2020 have brought social injustice to the forefront of our global consciousness, creating an opening for young leaders and grassroots organizations pushing for significant change.
Our hope – and our commitment – is to work with and for youth to build a more just world beyond the pandemic. That’s why we started 2021 by creating the transformative Spark Fund as a resource for youth leaders and grassroots organizations leading the charge against injustice and inequality. This initiative is the first global fund for youth leadership that is truly participatory, and it will provide young leaders with flexible funds that allow them to take risks, innovate, experiment, collaborate, and learn.
Join us in not only prioritizing young people’s needs during the COVID-19 crisis, but also prioritizing their solutions for a brighter post-pandemic future.
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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