In May 2020—through the Via project in Tanzania—IYF conducted a Youth Voice survey in the Mtwara, Dodoma, and Dar es Salaam regions of the country. We engaged 103 young people, many of whom would ordinarily be in school or working. However, as a primary measure to curb the spread of COVID-19, education and training institutions were among the first to be closed. Though this is a necessary precaution, it has affected all angles of young people’s lives—economic, social, and emotional. Among many interesting lessons, we learned a lot about mental health challenges caused by the pandemic, and what young people say can help them cope with the situation.
- Disruption to studies creates anxiety about the present and future. This is especially true for students who are close to finishing their courses or studies. They report feeling rushed and unprepared, and they worry how that might affect their final outcomes. “I still don’t know a lot of things,” said Zainabu, a 20-year-old Vocational Education and Training (VETA) student in Mtwara enrolled in the secretarial course. "If the exam comes today, I am afraid I will not pass it.” For others, the disruption to education has also impacted their finances, which causes additional anxiety and uncertainty. “When things get back to normal, I might go for my advanced studies,” explained Eddey, an 18-year-old student at VETA Dodoma who’s studying electrical installation. “However, I have lost my money and time, so it’s a challenging situation for me.”
- Changes to employment opportunities take a mental toll. Many out-of-school young people work in the informal sector, doing daily paying jobs such as restaurant servers, food vendors, mechanics, and other short-term contract jobs. Most of these jobs were either scaled down or completely closed during the pandemic, resulting in a huge cut to young people’s finances—which are often depended on by their families. The young people we surveyed said it’s stressful to have to think of alternative sources of income for themselves and their families. Those who are coping the best are young people with diverse skills sets. According to Johnson, a 21-year-old graduate from VETA Dar es Salaam and an entrepreneur said, “I have multiple skills such as electronics repairing, plumbing and masonry skills. These skills help me shift from one opportunity to another.”
- Young people recommend finding ways to stay productive that can help with anxiety caused by being out of school and work. Staying at home—away from school, out of work, and without much parental attention—can lead to idleness and a mentally unhealthy environment. Mariam, a 23-year-old VETA student enrolled in the food production course, said “my biggest challenge right now is just staying home with nothing to do and not socializing with my colleagues—I feel so bored. I need something that can keep me busy or help me learn and acquire new knowledge and skills.” The young people we surveyed noted that during the pandemic, new business and learning opportunities can emerge from trying new hobbies like sewing, gardening, or learning to make useful products like soap or masks. All these activities can not only alleviate boredom, but also lead to potential economic opportunities. For example, Teresia, a 23-year-old graduate from the Tanzania Entrepreneurship and Competitiveness Centre (TECC), sells African vitenge and khanga cloth. Since the pandemic, she has adapted how she does business by using online platforms. “Since March,” she explained, “I have reopened my Instagram business page for advertising my business. Customers can contact me for more information and to negotiate a price.”
For young people around the world, the COVID-19 pandemic has surely been one of the most shocking events of their lives. However, they are remaining resilient and trying to cope. As we learn to live with COVID-19 as “a new normal,” the effects on the mental health of young people should be addressed. Youth development stakeholders need to increase mental health interventions and to support young people and their families.
Eliflorida Mushi is Monitoring, Evaluation, & Learning Officer in IYF's Tanzania office.