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CHISINAU, Moldova — Young volunteers from a network of youth centres in Moldova have launched an online mobilization campaign to help stop the spread of the new coronavirus disease (COVID-19). Following the recommendations of health authorities, they are staying active in their communities while staying at home, and urging their friends and family, especially their older relatives, to do likewise.

“I was always very busy with a lot of activities, so it was difficult for me to switch to this isolated way of life,” says Andrei Frățescu, a 20-year-old volunteer with the Orhei Youth Centre. “Being involved with this online campaign is an opportunity to feel useful during this stressful period.”

Nine youth centres out of 44 in the nationwide network have so far joined the on-going campaign, which is being supported by UNFPA. It has already reached more than 5,000 young people and received a message of appreciation from the country’s Education Minister.

The first centre to join the initiative was the Ungheni Youth Centre, which challenged young people to spend their time at home productively. Each day, the centre has been promoting a new action and accompanying hashtag — such as #IRead or #ICook – that young people can take part in and share.

Demonstrating intergenerational solidarity

Volunteers at the Straseni Youth Centre came together in an online chat to discuss their outreach ideas, says 15-year-old Ana Scutelnic. “I came with the idea of a collage, which we put together by having each of us take a picture showing our day-to-day activities and holding up a sign,” she says. “Together, the words on the signs formed our call: ‘We stay home because we care; how about you?’”

Self-isolating at home is particularly important for older people, who are among the most vulnerable to a serious COVID-19 infection. In Moldova, many young people live in the same household as their grandparents because their parents have migrated to other cities or countries to find work.

One of these young people is Mihaela Revenco, a volunteer at the Cimislia District Youth Centre. Mihaela lives with her grandmother, who she filmed urging everyone to stay at home during the coronavirus pandemic. Mihaela posted the short video online with the hashtag #IStayHomeWithGrandma. “Be like my grandmother, stay home,” she says.

“This is a time to demonstrate intergenerational solidarity, to show how young people can support the older persons most affected by the pandemic,” says Nigina Abaszade, Resident Representative for UNFPA Moldova. “Young people can be a valuable resource and network during times of public health crises and emergencies. With the necessary support and training, they can help break the chain of coronavirus infection.”

Video: Young people from the Straseni Youth Centre join the call from the Government of Moldova, UN in Moldova and UNFPA to actively promote the #StayHome message during the coronavirus pandemic.

UNFPA is continuing to work with youth centres in Moldova to “involve young people safely and effectively as agents of change in responding to the pandemic,” says Abaszade.

Youth centres, like other social gathering spaces in Moldova, are closed to keep the coronavirus from spreading, but many of them are taking formerly face-to-face activities online to keep young people engaged and connected to each other. The schedule of online activities put together by the Chisinau Municipal Youth Centre includes learning sessions, a book club and a cooking show, while the Criuleni Youth Centre is organizing virtual board-game sessions.

“We are developing online trainings and Q&A sessions with experts on various topics through which young people can build personal and life skills, as well as individual psychological counselling,” says Marta Vasluian, a specialist at the Chisinau Municipal Youth Centre’s Youth Information and Documentation Service.

Strengthening the participation of young people

The activities of the network of youth centres are supported by the Ministry of Education, Culture and Research; the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation; and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) within the framework of the Joint Fund on the Development of Youth Centres and strengthening the participation and civic involvement of young people from the Republic of Moldova.

Taking into account the needs of young people and involving them in the planning of future strategies and online activities, including volunteer opportunities and non-formal education, is an essential component of the action plan being developed by the centres. An online platform for discussion with young people is being launched and a guidebook has been developed to facilitate their involvement during this period.

“At first it felt like we were having a short holiday, a chance to rest at home, but taking all of my classes online is very challenging,” says Maricica Ceban, a 21-year-old volunteer at the Dubasari Youth Centre. “I miss going to my regular lessons at the university, and my other normal habits, but it’s important for all of us to stay home and take care of our health.”