#UPMandelaMonth: UNICEF-UP project empowers youth through education and community engagement

Posted on July 26, 2021

In recognition of Nelson Mandela’s dedication to the service of humanity, which includes the rights of children, information ethicist Rachel Fischer shed light on a collaborative initiative between the Future Africa institute and campus and UNICEF, the United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund, in which she plays a crucial role.

“COVID-19 has had a considerable impact on young people, with physical health concerns that impact on mental and emotional well-being, as well as added societal challenges such as reduced opportunities for employment, economic privation and reduced access to education – all of which comes with social consequences,” Fischer says. “In response, in 2020 UNICEF partnered with Future Africa to scale up various youth-focused capacity- and skill-building projects, taking particular cognisance of the global project Generation Unlimited [GenU].”

Named “YEaH” (Youth Empowerment and Health/Economic Responses to COVID-19), the initiative involved seven faculties and research centres, with several important flagship programmes, encompassing One Health, 1 HOPE, Food Nutrition, Communication and Entrepreneurship. Along with Future Africa team members, the project was coordinated with nine clusters across UP faculties, with more than 100 scientists from various disciplines actively engaged. “Extraordinarily, the engagement ultimately reached more than 7 500 individuals across all sectors of society between June 2020 and 2021 – importantly, it included people from diverse socio-economic contexts,” Fischer says.

“If I consider the influence that former president Nelson Mandela has had on my life and what Mandela Month means to me personally, it comes down to his words regarding education. He said ‘Education is the most powerful weapon that you can use to change the world’. I believe that by concentrating on sustainable initiatives like YEaH that empower youth through education and community engagement, our future leaders can become champions for their generation,” Fischer says. “Youth must be recognised for their invaluable creative contributions, and I encourage them to be vocal and insist on their right to education and access to quality information.”

With the first phase of YEaH successfully delivered, UNICEF has extended the project, which will expand into other domains with new target youth groups. Future Africa will implement two main activities that include the promotion of young women scientists at UP to engage on relevant COVID-19 responses, and engagement with the Historically Disadvantaged Universities Development Programme (HDU-DP). Fischer explains: “The lessons from Phase 1 are that progress and success cannot be measured by quantitative targets alone. It is the qualitative, emotive, human and innovative practices that add colour and dimension to any project. Therefore, by including perspectives from scholars representing historically disadvantaged institutes, as well as fostering collaboration with female researchers, platforms for inclusive dialogue are expanded.”

Through evolving from local to regional and ultimately global platforms, she says that YEaH will be used as a springboard to continue empowering youth under this phase.

While the project is well represented by academics from One Health for Change, 1 HOPE, Resilience Studies, Food and Nutrition, Entrepreneurship and Management Skills, and complemented by Augmentative and Alternative Communication as well as Arts for Therapy and Community Participation, recommendations for future collaborators and contributors would be to include the Faculty of Humanities as well as researchers from the Faculty of Education, Fischer says.

“Collaboration with these faculties – with access to primary, secondary, tertiary, formal and informal education, and community platforms – will elevate the project to unprecedented levels. Such a full-scale effort will manifest across all sectors of society via the public education sector. It will also translate into the strengthening of government entities, private sector organisations and civil society representatives. Indeed, collaboration can also extend to the Theology; Law; and Engineering, Built Environment and Information Technology faculties. In essence, literacy and education are the ultimate keys to knowledge creation, which transforms any society into a knowledge society.

“Mandela said, ‘A good head and good heart are always a formidable combination. But when you add to that a literate tongue or pen, then you have something very special’ – and that is how we need to equip today’s youth.”

Look out for…

Nelson Mandela: A Reader on Information Ethics, which Jacana Media will be publishing this week and which Rachel Fischer edited as part of a team that brings together the Future Africa institute and campus at UP, the Capurro-Fiek Foundation in Germany and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in the US. It has been published under the International Center for Information Ethics (https://www.i-c-i-e.org/) and will be available in .epub and .mobi formats.


- Author Nicole Cameron

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