This year will undoubtedly be remembered for the immense loss of life, experiences, and progress that were consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic. But in the midst of all the pain and suffering, young people around the world have shown incredible courage, resilience, and compassion — characteristics that exemplify what it means to be a true Global Citizen.
From holding leaders accountable in meeting climate targets to volunteering as poll workers in the US election, the youth took a stand in 2020 and dedicated their time and efforts toward ending extreme poverty and its root causes.
As we ring in the new year, let’s celebrate these iconic instances of activism, and hope for a future in which the youth of the world continue to use their voices to fight for change. Here are six ways young people stepped up in 2020 to make the world a better place for all.
1. By Fighting Hunger Through Giving Back
World hunger is rising at an unprecedented rate due to the COVID-19 pandemic, with chronic levels of hunger set to potentially double by the end of the year, according to estimates by the World Food Program. Around the world, young people are addressing this issue by providing meals to those in need.
When South Africa went into national lockdown, Kopano Tsengiwe and Nwabisa Mpotulo, both 25 years old and from Johannesburg, began to provide nourishment through the Kwanisa Foundation, which they founded. Since March, the two women have been supporting families in their communities by delivering food parcels.
Abdurrazzaaq and Abdul Ghaffar Allie, aged 22 and 20, are two other young South Africans who have been working to fight hunger. In May, the two brothers in Cape Town started a nonprofit to feed people in their community, and have since reached more than 8,000 people through their organization United Feeding Scheme.
High school and college students in the US have also been stepping up by raising money to eliminate hunger and poverty, preparing bags of donated food, and delivering meals to homeless shelters.
2. By Pushing for a More Sustainable World
The pandemic may have stopped us from traveling and gathering, but it hasn’t stopped climate change from continuing to threaten humanity’s existence. Young people around the world recognize the urgency of the climate crisis — and they have been holding world leaders accountable and calling for action.
In November, youth from more than 140 countries organized a Mock COP, designed to mirror the format of the postponed COP26 United Nations climate summit. The two-week event concluded with delegates urging world leaders to commit to a green COVID-19 recovery, to recognize the human right to a healthy environment, and to make the deliberate destruction of nature a crime.
3. By Stepping Up as Citizens of Democracy
The 2020 US election faced many challenges, but young people showed up in more than one way this year to help make the process as smooth and fair as possible.
Young Americans registered to vote in record numbers this year. In Idaho, Georgia, Minnesota, and Vermont, youth voter registration exceeded the numbers from 2016 by more than one-third. Young Americans also cast their ballots in much higher numbers, with youth voter turnout increasing by 10% compared to the rate from four years ago.
Besides exercising their right to vote, the American youth also volunteered as poll workers, filling in for older volunteers who decided to stay home to minimize risk of contracting COVID-19. Through the Poll Hero Project, more than 37,000 young people — some of whom were too young to vote — signed up to be poll workers in the 2020 election.
4. By Leading the Movement to End Period Poverty
This year, the fight against period poverty became increasingly urgent as more people lost access to basic sanitation services and essential menstrual products. Not being able to afford or access these resources makes it harder for people who menstruate to manage their periods safely and with dignity.
Youth around the world have been working to change lives and change policy.
The youth-fueled nonprofit Period, founded by 22-year-old Nadya Okamoto, distributed more than 5 million menstrual products to people in need around the world in 2020.
In England, the Free Periods petition started by 20-year-old Amika George achieved its goal in January when the government began to provide free pads and tampons in public schools and colleges throughout the country.
And in the US, 16-year-olds Nicole Soret and Mya Abdelwahab launched a campaign that resulted in the distribution of menstrual products at more than 200 New York City schools during the pandemic.
Thank you to @nycmayor, @nycschools, and Chancellor Richard Carranza for listening to us and making this happen! A huge to thank you to all the powerful women working on this with us: Assemblywoman Nolan, @aravellasimotas, @carolynbmaloney, @grace4ny, and @_juliasalazar! pic.twitter.com/FdMu4Qsw87— femstrate (@femstrate) May 13, 2020
5. By Using Social Media to Combat Misinformation
In this year of virtual communication, misinformation has been an enemy to public health. To protect their community from the dangers of false or misleading information, young people in Zimbabwe decided to use their voices to set the facts straight.
Since the country’s lockdown began in March, a team of 20 Zimbabwean youth have been using social media and radio shows to reach an estimated 100,000 people. They have been debunking myths, such as “Drinking alcohol will kill the virus” or “Africans cannot get COVID-19.”
These young advocates of science and facts have taken to Twitter, WhatsApp, Facebook, and more to comb through online comments and correct COVID-19 misinformation in an attempt to stem the spread of the virus and save lives.
6. By Championing a World in Which All People Are Treated Equally
2020 was a year filled with tragedy-fueled activism. One such example is the overwhelming protests that erupted in support of Black lives and racial justice after the murder of George Floyd. Teens and young people in the US were often the loudest, most passionate voices at protests and frequently acted as the organizers of marches and rallies.
Anya Dillard, 17, was part of a group of students who organized a Black Lives Matter protest for their community in West Orange, New Jersey. The event drew thousands of people and even garnered the attention of their mayor and local officials. Sophie Ming, 18, organized two large protests in Manhattan, New York, as well as smaller gatherings to discuss topics directly affecting Black people. Many more instances have occurred in cities across the country, with youth activists taking charge and leading the way.
This year has been challenging for people of all ages, races, and backgrounds. But despite the hardships that 2020 has thrown our way, the youngest generations have proven that they are more than ready to take on the world’s biggest problems.