FEW could deny the impact the Covid-19 pandemic has had on the nation’s general wellbeing and mental health.
The Irish Youth Foundation, in partnership with Amárach Research, youth workers and project leaders across the country, have tracked the impact of the pandemic on young people in Ireland since the first lockdown back in March. The findings are stark.
A hundred thousand children are going to bed hungry every night. One in five live in poverty. 60% of under 24s are now unemployed. Many young people are harder to reach and struggling to fend off isolation, hunger, and mental health issues, and are in danger of permanently falling through the cracks.
The Irish Youth Foundation has teamed up with Ireland’s leading voices in sports, music, literature and TV to capture the imagination of the Irish public and inspire action for a campaign called ‘Generation Pandemic’.
This was launched on World Children’s Day in November. Its aim is to raise funds to support youth projects around Ireland. More than 30 public figures and celebrities have supported the social media campaign and got behind #GenerationPandemic, including President Michael D. Higgins, Bressie, Pádraig Harrington, Roddy Doyle and Kellie Harrington.
Safe Haven is a voluntary initiative that is part funded by The Irish Youth Foundation. They also rely on other funds/donations from the public.
Safe Haven provides sailing opportunities for young migrants in Ireland, in particular those living in Direct Provision, as well as young Irish people living in isolated rural areas or regeneration areas.
The project’s primary aim is to facilitate the integration of new communities in Ireland. Since its establishment in 2015, Safe Haven has facilitated over 240 Irish and migrant young people on their courses and sailing voyages.
Diego Castillo is a volunteer for Safe Haven. He said: “The aim of the sailing courses is to give young people the ability and opportunity to learn new skills, take part in a physical activity and also, give them the possibility to end up as qualified instructors in five years’ time.”
Most of Safe Haven’s projects are run during the summer months. Diego said: “Unfortunately, once the first lockdown was announced, we didn’t know if we would be able to run the sailing projects at all. We didn’t know if we would be able to facilitate the young people and get them to the centre because most of them live more than an hour and a half away from the centre in Oysterhaven.”
Throughout lockdown, the volunteers at Safe Haven kept in touch with people who work with direct provision centres and the families that live there. Once they knew they would be able to facilitate the courses, they contacted the parents of the children in direct provision to ask if they thought Safe Haven’s programme would benefit their young people.
Diego said: “The over-riding response was positive because most of the young people didn’t have anything to do. Having no face-to-face education, not being able to go to school and not being able to attend our centre was difficult for them. It definitely affected their wellbeing.
"We could clearly tell that the lockdown affected their wellbeing and it affected their chances of resuming a normal life.”
Safe Haven ran courses in July, August and September and facilitated 20 young people who live in Direct Provision on their sailing projects. Because of social distancing restrictions, Safe Haven were limited in the number of young people they could cater for. It was a huge task trying to organise transport which adhered to Covid 19 guidelines. The people of Cork stepped up to support Safe Haven and the young people they work with.
Diego said: “We were very lucky that the community in Cork were so supportive. When we were having issues with transport, we put a call out on our social media pages to ask if people could help us in terms of driving a bus.
"There was such an outpouring of community support that came during that time so I think there was a lot of understanding in terms of what these young people in direct provision were going through.”
Integration and inclusivity are two of the primary aims of Safe Haven’s work.
Diego said: “When we send young people to the sailing courses, they are interacting with a lot of Irish young people.
“Each course has eight young people — four come from direct provision and four are local Irish young people. This gives them an opportunity to make friends and to keep in touch with people that live in their area and perhaps to get to know Ireland a bit more outside of direct provision conditions.
“We want to work towards an inclusive Ireland. We want to ensure all young people in Ireland have access to the same opportunities. Sailing is a great medium to do that because it enables young people to develop skills and perhaps work towards a qualification, as well as promoting their physical, mental and emotional well-being.”
The latest research carried out by the Irish Youth Foundation echoes concerns from those working closest with young people in Ireland. 91% of young people are missing friends. 50% are missing youth workers and mentors who regularly support them. 81% miss their families. 61% of children cited isolation as their biggest issue while 58% are having difficulty maintaining structure and routine.
Lucy Masterson is the CEO of the Irish Youth Foundation. She said: “The pandemic has had a devastating impact on the lives of our most vulnerable children and young people.
“Their critical supports and lifelines have been taken away — from the basics of a safe, warm place to go after school for a hot meal, Wi-Fi for home learning, right up to access to mental health supports and activities that keep them from becoming invisible.
“Years of transformative work by local youth projects, charities and organisations across the country have been wiped out.”
The Covid-19 restrictions since March have meant charities and youth initiatives have been unable to organise fundraisers to help keep them going.
Government funding alone is not enough to sustain many of the essential youth projects operating in the country.
In November, the Irish Youth Foundation released €500,000 from the Generation Pandemic Fund in a bid to help support charities and organisations.
An average of €7.5 million is needed to meet application requests from charities and voluntary initiatives working across the country with vulnerable children and young people.
The Irish Youth Foundation are inviting the public to post their childhood photos on social media and appealing to people to donate an hour of their pay to help fund youth projects around Ireland during these uncertain times.
Follow the campaign on Instagram @GenerationPandemic. To donate, visit Donate | Irish Youth Foundation (iyf.ie)
For more on the work of Safe Haven see http://www.safehavenireland.com/