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Latin American and Caribbean (LAC) youth as researchers teams taking initiative to tackle problems related to mental well-being and education during the COVID-19 pandemic

09/07/2021

Youth as Researchers (YAR) is a global initiative on COVID-19 where young people from all regions of the world collaborate on either global, regional, or national teams with other youth to design and conduct their own research projects. These focus on exploring the impact of COVID-19 on youth and on providing tangible recommendations for post-pandemic recovery.

Everyone from the Steering Committee, to the trainers, to the team coordinators, to the researchers, volunteer their time to coordinate, build capacities of, and collaborate with youth to make this experience possible. UNESCO and its offices around the world, the UNESCO Chairs at the National University of Ireland Galway and Penn State University, and the YAR partners support the youth researchers through aspects such as training, mentoring, coordination, event planning, and publication of research in credible scientific journals.

In this article, the UNESCO Youth as Researchers (YAR) initiative is featuring four different teams (two country teams from Haiti, one LAC regional team representing multiple countries from the LAC region, as well as one Brazil country team) that do not let the pandemic get them down; rather, they step up to face different challenges. 

Psychosocial

The YAR Haitian mental well-being team’s research attempts to explore the impacts of COVID-19 on the psychosocial well-being of young people in Haiti. Meanwhile, they are focusing on the degree of contribution of social networks in mitigating the psychosocial consequences of the pandemic among young people. They also try to highlight the economic difficulties in Haitian society, which are already weakened by recurring socio-political unrest with a weak health and political system. The idea is hence to collect data (both through surveys and interviews) to assess the frequency of use of social networks, behaviors, motives, and consequences to the social context of participants' lives. 

“After the various restrictive measures taken by the authorities concerned, young people feel isolated, unable to go about their business, unable to interact socially with their loved ones,” stated the team leader, Peterson Antenor. That is why their research hopes to trigger a relevant debate on the need to take into account the psychosocial well-being of youth in the implementation of adapted and useful public policies in Haiti, particularly in times of crisis, in order to strengthen the response capacity during the pandemic.

Education

Since the pandemic interrupted lives around the world, with young people being one of the most affected groups, particularly on the educational level, the LAC YAR regional team seeks to explore, analyze and examine the perceptions and distance-learning experiences of youth, who attend both public and private universities in Latin America. “Do youth perceive virtual classes as effective in terms of learning as face-to-face classes?”, questioned Geronimo Fullana, one of the team members of the LAC YAR regional team. Answering this question is crucial in promoting “the strategies that best suit the youth in order to help them receive the most effective academic experience contextualized, and respond to different education needs and perspectives.”

Considering the change that COVID-19 has brought to their way of life, especially in the field of education, this second Haitian team has focused on researching the impact of COVID-19 on the studies of young university students in Haiti. “Throughout the 2020 lockdown in Haiti, young people did not have the same chances of access to education... the majority remained waiting for everything to return to normal with the traditional system (face-to-face courses),” explained team lead, Ludmil Emmanuel. 

Their research hence is centered on the impact of the measures taken by the universities to deal with COVID-19 on the studies of young people in Haiti. Their research hypothesis is based on two premises: 1) The COVID-19 pandemic is forcing the vast majority of university youth in Haiti to continue their studies. 2) The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown out or modified the future plans of young university students in Haiti. They’re currently working to distribute their survey through different social media channels as well as organizing interviews with young students.

Youth Taking Action to Tackle Social Issues

The YAR Brazil Team’s research aims to identify, using an online questionnaire, different perceptions and actions of the Brazilian youth regarding the difficulties faced and possibilities of dealing with the problems derived from the COVID-19 pandemic. For instance, their research aims to report strategies developed by youth, who have engaged in different social, cultural, and ethnic movements, in order to help them adapt to the challenges of these unprecedented times. 

Data for this report will be collected from remote virtual interviews, which should provide accounts of different youth interviewees on the alternatives created by the Brazilian youth to promote their wellbeing and guarantee their human rights, especially of the marginalized minorities who have vastly experienced the increase of social inequalities during the pandemic.

This team has had to overcome many more challenges than most, especially after the tragic death of one of their coordinators, Luciana Amorim, during the pandemic: “Since the beginning, it was our interest, a collaborative creation, to develop research with the interest of our super diverse group, i.e., in the Health, Education, and Cultural areas. It was not easy, because our life is terribly busy and hard because of this difficult pandemic situation, in which we lost one of our coordinators,” the group explained. Their perseverance is an honor to Luciana’s legacy.