ASMARA, Eritrea—Youth ambassador Medhanie, 18, has made it his personal responsibility to ensure that young people are safe from the COVID-19 pandemic, by sharing information and asking them to stay at home.
Medhanie, whose name means ‘a saviour’ in Tigrigna, one of the local languages, is one of many young people who are helping to monitor the movement of people since the national lockdown started in April.
“I get [a sense of] moral satisfaction from safeguarding my people from an invisible enemy,” he said. Medhanie is a member of the National Union of Eritrean Youth and Students (NUEYS), which has more than 200,000 members.
Since Eritrea declared a total lockdown, people who are considered by their organizations to be essential staff members are required to hold an official pass, issued by the national taskforce against the COVID-19 pandemic, to commute to work.
NUEYS has deployed more than a thousand members across the country to monitor people’s movement, create awareness of the coronavirus, and provide support to needy community members, with a focus on young people.
So far, their efforts to empower young people with the right information and instill a sense of responsibility in them have contributed to relatively low infection and death rates. As at June 25, Eritrea had recorded zero deaths and 149 cases of infection, of which 39 had recovered and been discharged.
Young people make up the majority of the population in Eritrea: 47 per cent of the country’s population is under 15 years old, with a median age of 19 years. It is vital that a youthful population of this size is well informed and empowered, especially in times of crisis like the current pandemic.
Taking a leadership role to shape the future they want
Since it was established in 1979, NUEYS, in partnership with UNFPA, has used community mobilization and awareness raising campaigns to fight HIV and AIDS, as well as harmful practices such as child marriage and female genital mutilation (FGM).
Their efforts have contributed to a low national HIV prevalence rate of less than one per cent. FGM declined from 95 per cent in 1995 to 76 per cent in 2018. Child marriage dropped from 31 per cent in 1995 to 25 per cent in 2010.
UNFPA is working with NUEYS to include messages on sexual and reproductive health and rights within their COVID-19 awareness raising campaign.
- Venus Hailemichael