“¡Epyta nderógape, ani haguã pe mbae vai oike nderehe ha nderogaiguare! ¡Eñangareko ndesyre, nde tuare, nde taitare ha nde jaryire!” “Stay at home not to get the virus or let it in your house. Take care of your mother, father, your granfather and your grandmother!” maintained the young people, with determination and courage. The situation is difficult and has changed both the lives of young people and their community. But adversity is a source of strength and creativity, and the young leaders of their communities have found ways to move forward, following health measures, managing tools to continue with the virtual classes, strengthening ties with their families and peers and adding their efforts at home and in the community.
In this new edition of the series #LessonsLearned, we report on their experiences, testimonies and analyses, raising the voices of the youth to look ahead.
Youth is present
Children, young people and adolescents are a key driving force in any society. Far from being only the future, as many think, they are the present with living force, and in their actions and reflections they leave important lessons for a society that values life and projects itself with a future and sustainability.
The International Convention on the Rights of the Child, which turned 30 last year and was ratified by Paraguay through Law No. 57/90, enshrined the Doctrine of Universal Protection of Children and raised as one of its fundamental principles the protagonist participation, the right of children and adolescents to be involved in decisions that affect them, and be part of them (UN, 1989).
Beyond the obligation of governments to ensure that their views are requested and considered, children, young people and adolescents have gained that space through creative, enduring and resilient action, which in this context of the pandemic was no exception.
Firm and strong
The situation unleashed by the COVID19 health emergency in our country took young people – as well as the whole society – by surprise, but far from paralyzing them, it awakened in them the determination and strength to add to the challenge of taking care of each other and coming out stronger. “It is time to stay at home, to share time with family, to take advantage of time to study. This is the way we can take care of each other”, mentioned the young people of the Joven Adelante project in a virtual workshop at the beginning of the quarantine.
Assessing the generated situation at country level, the young people stated from the beginning that they could not remain indifferent, and sent out messages to their peers: “Let’s remain calm, let’s take care of ourselves and be aware that if we respect the established rules we will be successful”; “Be aware of the seriousness of the situation and follow the recommendations since your decisions, if you don’t get sick, can make the difference between life and death of other people”.
A drastic change
However, it has not been and it is not easy. Everyone’s life has changed, and, as they say, “it has been a drastic change”. Social isolation, changes in routine, virtual classes and economic necessity have been the strongest challenges. Several young people have not found ways to access the resources needed for virtual classes – mainly cell phones and data for connectivity – and are dropping out school. Others have had to start working to help the family economy in face of the crisis. In spite of this, they highlight the positive aspects of sharing more family time and strengthening ties.
“My life has changed. I didn’t think at this age I would already be working… but because of the quarantine I had to.” “Many young people in my community are dropping out school because they don’t have a mobile phone or some means to do their homework, they don’t leave their homes and things like that,” the concerned young people told us.
The same problem is experienced by their families and communities. The health emergency “affected the young people of my community regarding the isolation and changes of routines. This was what affected them the most. What affected my community the most was the issue of the economy, of work. Some were no longer working and had to see how to get their daily bread,” says Arturo, a referent from the Children and Youth Board of Limpio. Milagros, who is also a member of the Board, complements this by detailing how solidarity and organization of the “ollas populares” (similar to soup kitchens) have enabled the families to cope with the situation.
Virtual classes are useless
All of the young people have made an effort to follow the virtual classes, against all odds. The format of distance education in most community schools and high school has been based entirely on sending and receiving assignments via WhatsApp groups, requiring a smartphone with enough memory and mobile data for connectivity.
Teachers have created Whatsapp groups with students, where they send the assignments, usually in pdf format. The young people must then transcribe the assignments into their notebooks, complete them and then send a photo of the assignment to the teacher through the WhatsApp group. The system has made it possible to reach as many young people as possible by sending in assignments, but the accompaniment, follow-up and, consequently, the development of the teaching-learning process has been limited, almost non-existent. This can be seen in the evaluations of the young people: “Virtual classes did not really help much. They do not help. We do not learn anything. It is difficult to understand the lessons. Honestly, I don’t learn anything,” says Sergio, a referent of his community and member of the Children and Youth Board of Limpio, given this reality.
With regard to this, two main concerns arise among young people. The first is how to stop the drop-out rate that affects several of their peers who, faced with the impossibility of having a cell phone or Internet data, are leaving school. “We all have the right to education, and we have to find a way to reach all of them,” says Arturo.
On the other hand, the concern is also about how to make up for the year, as they feel that while the formal process is working, they are not really learning what they should.
The use of technological tools for education, as well as for participation and socialization, is one of the strengths that young people highlight from this period. But they maintain that there is still a long way to go to make virtual classes effective and really useful for the learning process. “Virtual classes are something Paraguay was not prepared for,” says another young referent.
Move our country forward
Society will change after this pandemic. That is something all young people consider. As far as health is concerned, they maintain that it will be much more valued , and they hope that the good habits generated in this period, such as frequent hand washing, will be maintained, with which the rate of other diseases such as the flu will decrease as well.
In socio-educational terms, they believe it is essential to give their place to teachers and peers. Their remoteness is strongly felt and as a consequence, they miss each other. “For example, it was more important for us because it was going to be our last year together because next year we have to start the university and we won’t be able to see each other because we will have to start working to pay our fees. That touched us deeply because it is our last year and the quarantine came”, says Valentina.
Politics will also have a profound change, because everything that has been unleashed in this period makes everyone see that we are all part of it and that we must take care of what is ours. But without a doubt, the young people maintain that the economic aspect will be one of the most important challenges, for which they are not sure which path to take, but they do have the clarity that it must be addressed in depth.
In response to the crisis, families in the communities organized “ollas populares” , made donations, and found ways to help each other. This solidarity is now needed at country level, to make changes and move the country forward.
“Corruption won’t be overlooked anymore”
The measures taken by the government to mitigate the spread of the virus were well evaluated by the young people, who celebrated the government’s actions and maintained that most people are complying with the health measures and that, although it is difficult, they do so because they know it is for the good of all. But the government’s actions are not exempt from criticism, mainly regarding the management of public funds and corruption.
“I think that what the government is doing makes a mockery of the people, like stealing masks in times of pandemic, asking for loans and not knowing how to justify what they are used for. Paraguay’s economy is collapsing and the government, instead of helping, makes everything worse,” reflects critically one of the young women in the community. “Some authorities are taking advantage of this to raise more money for their pockets,” says another young referent.
Young people are convinced that all citizens must play the role of comptrollers in order to stop the scourge of corruption, the “other pandemic”. They claim that many political changes will come because “during all this time of isolation and the pandemic, people began to realize that there is too much corruption in Paraguay, and they are no longer going to let these things go unnoticed so easily” they tell us.
Young people, go ahead and take action!
In the face of all this reality, the young people do not stand still, and propose a guide of actions to carry out and contribute to the country and its communities during this period:
– Raise awareness among other young people by spreading reliable information from official sources in the community and social networks
– Share visual materials -flyers- to urge the community to comply with the safety and protection protocols.
– Propose and create homemade ways of making disinfectants and hygiene supplies
– Teach strategies to manage anxiety and panic in the environments.
– Recommend activities that young people can do at home.
– Monitor the good use of public resources and accountability in times of the pandemic.
– Be all part of the solution, talk to our friends and family to comply with health measures, take care of each other and move forward.
Fundación Alda and CCFC. Buenas prácticas de participación protagónica de niñas, niños y adolescentes (Good practices of protagonic participation of children and adolescents), Asunción: 2019.
United Nations (UN). International Convention on the Rights of the Child, 1989.