Interview with the founder and chairman "COVID-19 Youth Task Force” Qaiser Nawab:
How did the Idea for the COVID 19 Youth Task Force come about?
We are living in unprecedented times. Everything we know and understand has suddenly been put at risk. Less than a month ago, many of us lived normal lives, some of us even lived privileged lives. Suddenly, a global pandemic shifted the narrative of our lives to global fear and uncertainty. In earlier 2020, I being a global youth activist was invited to speak on "Role of Rural Youth in achieving UN’s SDGs” at the "International Congress on Rural Youth Kazan”, where I observed that there was least representation of Chinese youth due to travel restrictions amid Corona virus spread. This was an initial period of the outbreak of COVID-19 in Wuhan, Hubei, China. Unfortunately, I noticed the public stigmatization against Chinese passengers wearing masks at the transit at Istanbul airport. At that moment, I thought "How epidemics like Corona virus cause societies to become more discriminating enough affecting social relations and human behavior globally?”
As 2019 Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) is a new disease, it is understandable that its sudden emergence and spread have caused confusion, anxiety and fear among the general public. These factors have also promoted negative stereotypes and stigmas.
Most common fears due to stigmatization are:
• Drive people to hide the illness to avoid discrimination
• Prevent people from seeking health care immediately
• Discourage them from adopting healthy behaviors
In my opinion, such barriers could potentially contribute to more severe health problems, ongoing transmission, and difficulties controlling infectious diseases during an infectious disease outbreak. I strongly believe that we, the young people can play a significant role to counter stigmatizing attitudes as well as challenges in controlling and containing COVID-19. Upon return to Pakistan from Russia, I organized numerous youth symposia and online discussions on COVID 19 with fellow global youth leaders and in the meanwhile, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared it a pandemic and implemented a public health emergency around the world. So responding to the WHO call and engaging young in controlling and containing COVID-19 as well as to counter stigmatizing attitudes, we, with the support of global youth leaders/networks launched a "COVID-19 Youth Task Force” worldwide.
What are the main goals and objectives of this organization?
"COVID-19 Youth Task Force” is focusing all efforts on supporting the governments, IGOs, UN, Commonwealth, EU, OIC, SAARC, Medical Professionals, Media and other organizations, in its approach to containing the spread of the disease, and to increase the preparedness and capability to be able to effectively address issues regardingCOVID-19. The task force has the following major objectives:
1. Establishing Consortium of Youth Organizations (regional, national and international) to address COVID-19
2. Engaging Youth as Volunteers to spread awareness regarding the prevention of COVID-19 in local and sign languages
3. Motivating and Helping people who are in Quarantine by various creative activities
4. Supporting people who have no access to livelihood particularly Transgender, Widows, Orphans, Senior Citizens & People with Disabilities (PWDs)
5. Online educational and entertainment programs for kids/adults and elder citizens to address mental health issues
6. Developing community-based guides and global campaigns to thwart the effects of stigma on the people and the COVID-19 response
Which countries are currently represented in the organization and how its coordination
Established between them?
It is with heartfelt sorrow that we have been following the tragic development ensuing from the COVID -19 pandemic that has struck almost every country around the globe. Thousands of people are affected, thousands have lost their lives, and the masses are observing strict lockdown due to the lethal virus. We are all together in the current suffering and hardship and share each other’s pain and grief. So far, we have received huge response from young people worldwide. Initially we established our chapters in Azerbaijan, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Balkans Peninsula, Canada, China, Caribbean, Denmark, France, Germany, Ghana, Gambia, India, Iran, Netherlands, Norway, Mexico, Portugal, Pakistan, Qatar, Republic of Korea, Romania Russia, Serbia, Spain, Switzerland, Sweden, South Africa, Kingdom of Saud Arabia, Kenya, UK and USA, engaging around 50,000 Youth volunteers in 6 continents which includes Asia, Africa, Australia, Europe, North America and South America. The coordination has been established through social media and other online meeting apps like Zoom, Skype, Whatsapp etc.
How will the Covid-19 Youth Task Force cooperate with governments and other relevant agencies in different countries?
The world today is home to the largest generation of young people in history which is almost 1.8 billion. Connected to each other like never before, young people contribute to the resilience of their communities by proposing innovative solutions and driving social progress. At the same time, they continue to face complex challenges, including, among others, access to quality education, healthcare, and decent work, forced displacement, different forms of discrimination and marginalization, all of which impede them to achieve their full potential. The way how young people navigate their way and overcome these challenges is critical for the progress of mankind.
The young Champions of the COVID-19 Youth Task Force has established national as well as regional teams in their countries where these champions are actively volunteering with the national, provincial and local governments/authorities to control and contain the pandemic Coronavirus. They are suggesting innovative policies to the policymakers to combat it and also to secure their future in post Corona world. These young, bright and motivated individuals are now ready to fight unconditionally for young people in the world, for mitigating the consequences of the pandemic. The Volunteers of the COVID Youth Task Force is playing an important role in advancing the instructions of the World Health Organisations as well as National Health Institutes by using information technology (Social Media) and by presenting an innovative ideas, visions, recommendations as well as perspectives on current global challenge that we face in ensuring sustainable progress and how these difficulties could be overcome through concerted and adequate responses of the Head of States.
The Azerbaijani representation of this organization has been established. What works are planned in Azerbaijan?
I had various opportunities to visit and to work closely with the vibrant youth of the brother country of the Republic of Azerbaijan. Today, Azerbaijani Youth is one of the most active, extraordinary, vibrant, hospitable, and advanced ones in the region and "COVID-19 Youth Task Force”. They will spare no efforts to cooperate with and for the benefit of the youth and the people of the Azerbaijan. Our representative in Azerbaijan Mr. Farid Shahbazli is a keen social worker and as a philanthropist, he nurtures a set of ideas that keep him focused on his social responsibilities. He has always been a dedicated philanthrope and he has been appointed as Chairman.
In Azerbaijan, we have already engaged the young volunteers in various major cities as one of the objective of the task force is advancing volunteering among young people and motivating them to promote volunteering activities, leading to the development of voluntary philosophy, engaging youth and enlarge the activities of in the National interest. Various awareness sessions including distribution of Masks and Hand sanitizers, the task force is also distributing food items among orphans, widows and needy people. The Task force will suggest various innovative and sustainable polices related to digitalization of education, youth empowerment, mental health, Sustainable Development, ST&I etc to the governmental of the Republic of Azerbaijan. It is very critical to observe mental health especially at this time and by the time this pandemic is over. There will be many cases of depression and anxiety, where the youth task force will play an important role by working closely with World Health Organization, National Health Institutes and other related organisation to offer primary counseling to those who have lost their lives of lovely ones by offering both online and face-to-face counseling.
The government should offer more support to the young people in sensitizing communities by providing personal protective equipment in order to reach to more people. The present crisis has given us more reasons to pay attention towards the youth development in the field of Science, Technology and Innovation (ST&I) as well as Health and Education particularly, at the level of individual countries, regions and the globe. The crisis has solidified the resolve of my activism, to continue supporting young people in realizing their aspirations and potential for materializing (ST&I) for Sustainable Development. The international attention for youth is more relevant today than ever.
I take this opportunity to express our hope and confidence that with the courage, ardor and resilience the world will surmount the present difficulties and will continue to march towards development. We recommit our confidence in the vision of the world leadership. Further, I would like to express, on behalf of Pakistani youth and "COVID-19 Youth Task Force” fraternity and on my own behalf, great grief and sorrow over the outbreak of the deadly Coronavirus in Azerbaijan and the unfortunate death of over 10 people. My sincere sympathies, wishes and prayers are with the victims and affectees of the pandemic.
At the same time, we highly commend the astute, determined, united and exemplary efforts of the Azerbaijan government and people for overcoming the crisis both domestically and globally. We appreciate the generous global solidarity gesture of the leadership of Azerbaijan by contributing 5 million USD to World Health Organisation (WHO) to fight COVID-19 pandemic. Beside this, the Azerbaijan Agency on Assistance for International Development implements projects in the field of poverty reduction, development of science, culture, healthcare, information technology, rational use of water resources, grant programs and other fields in various countries across the globe.
Finally, the increasing spread of COVID-19 has dominated global attention. Governments and media are focusing attention on the domestic impacts of the virus and the medical and political responses. With over 126 million people in need of humanitarian assistance globally, including 70 million forcibly displaced, there is a need to look at the potential impacts of the pandemic on existing humanitarian crises and the immediate impacts on vulnerable populations in conflict affected settings. The areas of hands-on conflicts, confrontations and illegal occupations are at the highest immediate risk of COVID-19 outbreaks like Indian Occupied Kashmir, Nagorno-Karabakh, Palestine and Syria etc. This needs a special attention of international community to resolve it on urgent basis peacefully through dialogues and talks.
We must not forget the contributions of the medical doctors and staff who have risked their own lives to save others, due to which thousands of patients have already recovered.