Meridian Youth Programs Alumni Leading Covid-19 Response

Awareness-raising campaigns around Tombouctou, Mali.


In celebration of International Youth Day, on August 12, 2020, this blog post was contributed by Wiem Jbeli, the Atlas Corps Fellow with the Global Connect Division at Meridian International Center. The GlobalConnect Division specializes in the design and implementation of customized programs to address specific issues of need, including youth leadership development, reverse trade missions, professional study tours, stakeholder engagement, capacity building, and cultural orientations for U.S. Department of State and foreign embassies, nongovernmental organizations, foreign governments, and private sector organizations around the world. 

In the midst of the universal struggle against the COVID-19 pandemic, youth are playing an active role in this fight. Despite unprecedented circumstances, Meridian alumni from U.S. Department of State – Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs Youth Programs have demonstrated their willingness and commitment to devote their time and effort to support their communities in these uncertain and ever-changing times. In this blog post, Meridian’s GlobalConnect Team spotlights some of the initiatives sparked by alumni around the world throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

  1. Bernard Naddaf: Study of the US Institutes (SUSI) Summer 2019 alum from Lebanon
Bernard with a group of youth students .

As COVID-19 spread in Lebanon, schools and universities had to close and students began to take their courses online. Soon after imposing the lockdown in Lebanon, everything closed, including gyms. Bernard’s initiative started when one of his friends expressed his frustration following the closing of all gyms. They realized that staying safe and socially distant during COVID-19 would require changing their daily routines, but still wanted to continue exercising for the social and mental health benefits.“We began exercising together. We decided that we should spread awareness and share our experiences with others especially in the time of COVID-19”. Bernard started posting stories on his Instagram that showed people how he exercises at home. He did not invite anyone in particular to join, he only wanted to lead by example and show that staying physically fit did not have to stop due to COVID 19 social distance and gathering restrictions. He stated that “I believe that setting an example to those I’m targeting to inspire is much more effective than telling them about it.”

Soon after posting videos, many more people joined Bernard’s initiative and he initially reached 16 students. He set a target audience for his future exercise content for people aged 16+, because in his hometown, people start using abusive substances around that age.

I wanted to keep them engaged and prevent them from resorting to these substances and find a healthier approach to release all the tension, anxiety, and stress. I wanted to make it free for everyone to join, so it would be more accessible to those who cannot afford a gym membership and I wanted to imply that everyone is welcome regardless of their age, gender, weight, or social status. In my team, I am advocating for gender equality, for instance, I make girls coach boys. During breaks or after we finish working out, I talk about topics like coexistence and dialogue” he said.

Bernard and his partner demonstrating.

Bernard believes that his SUSI Experience gave him the tools to create a plan and put it into action, it also gave him the lenses to see the world from a different focal point.

“I can now see opportunities regardless of the adversity”.

To learn more, check out the local Lebanese media coverage of Bernard’s activity.

  1. Abibatou (Haby) Koume: Pan Africa Youth Leadership Program (PAYLP) Summer 2019 Adult Mentor from Mauritania
Abibatou’s COVID awareness-raising campaign with her English Club Students

Abibatou “Haby” Koume is a devoted English teacher from Mauritania who served as an Adult Mentor participant in the Summer 2019 PAYLP Cohort. At the onset of the outbreak of COVID-19 in Mauritania, she launched an awareness campaign about health and hygiene during the pandemic with her English Club and English ACCESS Program students. During her lessons, she introduced them to the pandemic, built their English language vocabularies to discuss personal health, and shared how to take precautions against COVID-19 in their homes and daily routines.

“My participation in PAYLP made me strong and more courageous. When I came back home, I was so proud to build an active English Club and train them on the qualities of leadership. When the pandemic began, I did not only raise awareness among my students, but I also used my courage and leadership skills to go from one classroom to another to inform others about the virus. I also raised their awareness on the importance of sharing what they learned with their parents, friends, neighbors, etc…”

Collected cleaning products to be distributed among vulnerable families

Although schools have been closed in Mauritania since March, Haby continues to send nearly 100+ students English language exercises and health tips through various social media groups on WhatsApp and Facebook to keep them engaged. She took her efforts another step further to support her local community by hosting a supplies drive to collect soap, bleach, and other cleaning products to distribute among vulnerable and disadvantaged families.

She stated, “I’m so happy to do these volunteer activities. I’m looking forward to the reopening of schools to carry on our activities of community service, maintain awareness of health, and respect barriers, measures, and distances between people.”

  1. Ahmed ag Mohamed is a Study of the US Institutes (SUSI) Winter 2020 alum from Mali:
Awareness campaigns targeting different community categories.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic made its way to Africa, young people working in cultural affairs in Tombouctou in Mali have created a coordination group called “Coordination des Acteurs Culturels de Tombouctou” (Coordination of Cultural Actors of Tombouctou). SUSI Alum Ahmed ag Mohamed did not hesitate to join this youth-led group as soon as he learned of its’ existence, as he was eager to put his civic engagement skills to use to fight against the coronavirus.

Since its creation, the group has risen awareness of COVID-19 preventative measures among the population of Timbuktu in the three major markets.

Awareness-raising campaigns in Tombouctou school.

Describing his efforts, Ahmad wrote, “We were in houses and recently in three high schools to educate the people and raise their awareness. We also distributed the masks for them to protect themselves and protect others”.

Although interventions he recommended were somewhat simple, such as sneezing into your elbow, wearing a mask, maintaining 6 feet social distance, and frequent handwashing, Ahmed believes the Civic Engagement training he participated in during the SUSI experience strengthened his capacity on citizen interventions and gave him ideas of ways to be involved in the resolution of community problems.

  1. Juan Carlos Cerna Barrantes is a Young Leaders of the Americas Initiative (YLAI) 2018 alum from Nicaragua

Juan Carlos is the Founder and CEO of Camas Karen S.A., the only mattress company in Nicaragua. After completing the YLAI program, he and his team developed a platform to sell their mattresses online. This decision has enabled clients to buy his products without having to go to a physical store and risk their health. After ordering online, products are delivered to the client’s house within 24 to 72 hours.

As a display of innovation and resilience during this global crisis, Juan Carlos and his team have restructured their production lines to shift towards manufacturing face masks, medical gowns, face shields, and hospital mattresses. Beyond lending support to sick patients, healthcare workers, and the general public, for Juan Carlos, the greatest milestone in this time of uncertainty has been to keep the health and jobs of his team members who come from one of the most impoverished areas of Managua, Ciudad Sandino, Nicaragua.

  1. Xavier Nhaule is a Study of the US Institutes (SUSI) Winter 2020 alum from Mozambique:
Collecting cleaning products to be distributed in Maputo and Matola.

From his point of view in Mozambique, SUSI 2020 alum Xavier Nhaule has learned that cases of Covid-19 tend to grow exponentially, creating an increasing number of affected people. The spread of the virus caused great economic devastation in his country and others around the world, making families even more vulnerable to hunger and to the lack of basic hygienic supplies to prevent and combat the pandemic.

For this matter, driven by the spirit of solidarity, Xavier and a group of volunteers created a project called Feeding Hope. He and his colleagues partnered with entities such as the Methodist Church and Christian Network To Fight HIV to synchronize efforts to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic and search for immediate solutions that can support the vulnerable.

Awareness-raising campaigns among young students in Maputo and Matola.

Their project target the Municipal districts of Maputo and Matola, heavily populated areas of Mozambique. The main objective of the project is to collect hygiene products, masks and food products for later distribution to support those in the beneficiary communities who cannot afford them due to economic constraints compounded by the COVID 19 pandemic, such as loss of job or loss of income due to illness or safety precautions.

“The knowledge acquired in SUSI Program was important for the design and implementation of this project! So far, we have already benefited more than 30 families with the project, so we are looking for more support to reach the goal initially stipulated!”

6. Shraman Jain Bohra is a Study of the US Institutes (SUSI) 2019 Alum from India

“2020 has been a challenge for the entire world. Everyone has tried helping each other during this pandemic in one or the other way. While everyone was busy collecting food, clothing and other essentials for the needy, I was busy figuring out a way to contribute.”

One day, as Sharman was scrolling through one of his social media accounts, he read an article about an underprivileged student who failed his exam solely because he ran out of paper. Reading this story compelled him to find a way to help. He realized that the vast majority of book depots and supply shops were inaccessible due to the COVID-19 lockdown that was announced in India in March 2020. “We all have notebooks that have few unused pages. I decided to pile them together and turn them into [new] notebooks. That is when I took this to my social media account and asked people to donate leftover sheets if they were of no use to them. A few contacted me and that is how I gathered about 250 unused sheets.” Shraman and his sister worked for several days, but ultimately made 25 notebooks out of extra sheets to give free of charge to underprivileged students. “I know this is a very small initiative, but I hope this will help the beneficiaries. On the professional front, I am working towards achieving UN Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG-4), which is quality education for all. I strongly believe that such kind of initiatives will help me achieve the goal along with the other global citizens.”