Unless a concerted effort is made to reach those without internet access, in East Africa and around the world, millions will be left behind and put at risk, says Habiba Uwase.
It was really interesting and very important to learn directly from my fellow young people on how the global COVID19 pandemic has affected them. It has no doubt affected us all in ways we could never have anticipated.
As a young researcher, partnering with Restless Development and YOULead East Africa, I have been collecting young people’s voices via an online survey entitled “Study on CoronaVirus Disruptions in East Africa”.
I was hoping to capture a diverse range of voices and ensure that all my peers could participate. However, being in a national lockdown makes it very difficult to reach those who are not ‘online,’ as face-to-face surveying would be risky and potentially irresponsible. So I decided to call them and fill out the form on their behalf (using their exact words without filtering or editing).
This led me to realise how deep and personal the disruption COVID causes could be. And how important it is to bridge the digital divide. There are too many young people hidden from the conversation which has been forced into virtual spaces that not all can enter.
One of the offline participants I rang was Emmanuel. He is blind and would usually have a custom built computer with software that enables him to hear what he’s typing. He had the same device when I knew him, but he told me he could no longer use the computer as it was now damaged. I asked him more about this situation, and realised that he was providing essential insights beyond the scope of our survey.
He told me;
My computer was my only reliable source of information, with it I can know what is happening globally. I can read the pandemic articles and get updates. The bad thing is that i can’t even get a technician to repair it for me as all travels are banned, all shops are closed
Let us not take much emphasis in being outdated due to the fact that I can’t access information as you do. My big loss was a pending fellowship application. I had admitted for a certain international fellowship and i had an interview some days back, I lost that opportunity cause I couldn’t make it without the device”
There are thousands of cases like Emmanuel’s that bear witness to the impact of COVID19 on East Africa’s young people that are going unreported. They are missing opportunities and may miss out on essential information for keeping themselves and their communities safe. Unless we all make an effort to include those offline, thousands will be left behind.
Habiba is currently completing the Bachelor
degree program in Journalism and communication,
at University of Rwanda. Through her passion for
youth power to be part of change needed, she is a
facilitator in Bright Cornerstone where she
provides alternative educational support in the
area of leadership; ICT and entrepreneurship to
young people to fully explore their potentials to
create their future.