The featured image on this page features ACEY’s youth, guests of Centre for Connected Communities’ Signal Boost Podcast, Episode #4, “Youth Engaging Youth.”
July 17, 2020
My name is Ariba Siddiqi and I am the co-chair of a youth led grassroots group called the Association of Committed and Engaged Youth (ACEY). We are a diverse collective of students based in the Kingston-Galloway-Orton Park area, with a mission to reaffirm the power that youth hold to be at the forefront of generational change. Our initiative is called Diversity, Dialogue and Disruption (3D) and its purpose is to investigate how the relations of power in the community spaces youth occupy affect their mental health. We accomplish this by hosting facilitated discussions with youth in the spaces where their voices have often been unheard.
3D discussions are usually hosted at schools, community centres and other youth serving spaces; however, with quarantine in effect, doing so is currently not possible. We initially debated on whether to cancel sessions until restrictions are lifted or to move them online. If sessions were online, could we maintain the essence of the in-person workshops? The in-person workshops allowed for a sense of unity and safety that we thought might not be translated to an online platform. And what platform would we use? Many platforms required a fee, how long could we sustain the fee? Would youth be interested in participating in online sessions without the incentive of snacks or time with like minded youth? How would we spread the word?
In spite of all of the questions and concerns that we had, we decided to be resilient and to continue to offer support to youth to the best of our abilities. We may not be able to replicate the essence of the physical workshops, but online sessions with their built in anonymity, can prove to be more beneficial for youth that are more comfortable with expressing themselves online rather than in-person. Utilizing the tools we had with our largest audience, we decided to utilize the free live stream function on Instagram to host our modified 3D sessions. To spread the word, we promoted the live streams in tandem with our quarantine social media campaign which includes tips on what to do during social-distancing. Our goal for the sessions are to reduce social isolation amongst youth and to foster a sense of community. I interviewed four 3D facilitators to learn more about their first experience with the online workshops, how the sessions are impacting youth and the advice they have for other youth leaders. The facilitators are Nabiha Rana, Khuzaima Rana, Tasfia Rayhan, and Pranitha Rathakrishnan.
Adjusting to Lockdown and its Growing Isolation
At first, the facilitators experienced difficulty transitioning to an online platform. Some were having technical difficulties and others were having trouble getting a response from the audience. All of the facilitators had originally tailored their questions to discuss digital spaces in general but in both sessions the conversations consistently became more centered around school. As a result, they had to adjust the questions to give space for youth to address the impact of moving the physical spaces they normally occupy online. Regardless, by the end of each of their sessions, the hosts fully adapted and gained the confidence to host more online sessions. They learned how to effectively communicate to their audience despite the barrier of a screen and fostered an environment where youth could talk about their frustrations, asked pertinent questions, and participate in fun activities.
Overall, leading in physical isolation has been hard because our initiative relies on a physical presence. When talking to Nabiha, she expressed concern that our initiative could lose its importance in comparison to the issues caused by the pandemic. She elaborated that as the world continues to grapple with the tragedy of the pandemic, the live streams could seem irrelevant. Khuzaima shared a similar sentiment with concerns that the full potential of our initiative could not be reached online. He felt that in-person sessions would resonate with youth more. Both Nabiha and Khuzaima, after hosting their first session, were glad to discover that they were able to help youth out of isolation, more than they had anticipated.
Tasfia and Pranitha shared that some high school clubs are not reaching out to youth, increasing the feeling of isolation and disconnect from the community. However, Tasfia shared that “this pandemic is allowing leadership to be shown through social media” since more people are using social media than ever. She explained that since youth have more time to themselves, they are choosing to utilize social media more and that youth leaders should do the same. For example, ACEY’s strategy has been to launch a COVID-19 resource awareness campaign on social media.
Feedback on the Experience
In spite of all their concerns, I was pleasantly surprised by the positive feedback from the 3D facilitators. Nabiha said that the livestreams allowed people to “get outside their head,” effectively disrupting isolation. She elaborated that youth were allowed to actualize what is going on. They are able to reflect on how they are feeling and are given a chance to verbalize it. Khuzaima echoed this and stated that “anything helps, people want to be distracted.” It was amazing to hear that the quality of our sessions were not hindered and that youth enjoyed the space provided. Tasfia added that the accessibility of the livestreams makes it a wonderful way for youth from all backgrounds to connect and express themselves. Prantiha said the whole experience is also very therapeutic for her due to the natural flow of conversation that takes place with the audience.
I also asked the facilitators to recall a key moment in their live streams that resonated with the group. Tasfia mentioned that her audience found comfort in knowing that they all felt teachers and professors were being harsh during these times. They believed that educators did not trust them because of the strict rules that were enforced during online examinations and the heavy workload that was assigned. Pranitha spoke more about this saying, “There was solidarity with how everything is so difficult, which is nice because you’re not alone, everyone is going through the same thing.” There was solace in the fact we are all going through hardships during these tough times and it is natural to feel overwhelemd. Khuzaima and Nabiha said it was amazing to see how the audience members were interacting with each other and offering words of support and ecnouragement.
Overall, the facilitators received positive feedback; the youth enjoyed participating in their livestreams! Many youth enjoyed the activities that were hosted and liked how they were able to vent in a safe space. However, there was negative feedback on the platform we chose and the transition between activities and questions. Participants expressed concern over how Instagram automatically ended the livestream after an hour and many did not return. Additionally, some participants explained they did not enjoy the transition between the Q/A session and the activity. To help solve these issues, we decided to use Discord for our future sessions because it allowed the facilitators to host for longer durations.
Advice for Youth-Serving Institutions
We hope to use the information we learned from students who joined the live to make positive changes in the community! An issue the youth brought up during the live was how teachers are sending too many emails and Nabiha suggested that teachers take care to condense their information and send fewer, more concise emails. Tasfia mentioned that TDSB should pay more attention to their students and listen to their concerns.
The facilitators also have some amazing advice on how to stay resilient during these times. Nabiha encourages groups to stay in touch through emails and video calls to keep one another accountable. Both Khuzaima and Tasfia emphasized harnessing the power of technology, specifically social media, and using it to your advantage. Pranitha said “Things are tough right now, but you can still impact the community.”
They are also encouraging youth to get involved as well and joining ACEY is one way to do just that! ACEY can offer a variety of benefits such as leadership opportunities, personal growth, and a chance to have a direct and positive impact on your community. We are by youth, for youth, and are dedicated to giving you a space to voice your concerns, and tools to help solve them. If you are interested, send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or send us a message on our Instagram, @aceykgo. We would love to have you on our team and be part of amazing and impactful change 🙂
Stay safe everyone!