From Gen Z to Gen Coronavirus

PARIS (AFP) – With their art, technology know-how, creative social networking skills or political commitment, post-millennials, known as Generation Z, have found their own ways to help others through the coronavirus lockdown.

From Colombia to Senegal, Malaysia to North Macedonia, AFP talked to a group of 15- to 24-year-olds, who put their energy and skills to use within their communities, contributing perhaps to shaping the post-virus world.

Only history will tell if they’ll become the “Coronavirus Generation”, forever marked at a formative time in their lives by the pandemic, which brought more than half the planet to a standstill.

“If I don’t volunteer and those like me don’t volunteer, then who will?” asked Malak Sabah, 24.

In her high visibility vest, she has been the linchpin of an initiative to sanitise the streets of Lebanon’s overcrowded Wavel Palestinian refugee camp, where she grew up.

Worried that some were not taking the risk seriously enough after the first COVID-19 case in the camp, an awareness campaign was launched, Sabah said.

“It’s a hidden virus, you can’t deal with it with physical strength, it requires awareness, knowledge and protection,” she told AFP.

Having always known a world connected by the likes of Google, Facebook and Amazon, this generation understands the power of social networks in getting a message across, Walid Badi, a French professional handball player, said.

Eva Stojchevska poses for a photograph in Skopje. PHOTO: AFP

Not only that, but these young people also realise they’re best placed “to help the most vulnerable”, the 24-year-old, who lives in Ivry-sur-Seine near Paris, said.

The health crisis demonstrated that “we’re not just good for staying at home, hooked to our smartphones, but are deeply rooted in reality”, he added.

While competitions were off the cards during confinement, he used the time to step up action through his Solidaritess association in aid of the homeless, distributing clothes to the “forgotten” in the capital’s suburbs.

Jose Otero, a 22-year-old Venezuelan living in Colombia, has come up with what he describes as a low-cost drone to beat the travel restrictions by carrying medicine and test results around the northern city of Barranquilla.

“They used to tell us that we had to separate ourselves from technological devices or telephones because that separated us,” he said.

“On the contrary, right now it is what unites us.”

In Senegal, engineering student Ibrahima Cisse, 23, and his friends at Dakar’s ESP Polytechnic Higher School built a special bicycle equipped with a rear-end loud speaker for sharing preventative information and a hand sanitiser dispenser.

He said that they were learning how to be useful through initiatives that take into account the environment, people’s needs and reducing costs. “We’re in a poor country and you shouldn’t think of extravagant projects,” he said.

At 15, Romeo Estezet, a Paris high school student, has made his bedroom into a 3D printing workshop and is turning out 80 protective visors a day.

“My dream is to show other young people the usefulness and, above all, the ease of this technology, which puts the production of objects within everyone’s reach” especially in a crisis, he said.

Art has helped some youngsters overcome the confines of lockdown and health conditions while living in small apartments.

Wan Jamila Wan Shaiful Bahri, a 17-year-old autistic painter from Malaysia, devoted her time to creating her Our Heroes series in tribute to frontline workers.

“I compile all the stories I saw in the daily news regarding coronavirus,” she told AFP, from her studio at her home just outside Kuala Lumpur.

Better known under the name Artjamila, the teen proudly showed one of her canvasses, depicting people dressed in blue, with big, dark eyes looking worried above their masks. One of her works was selected for a health ministry awareness campaign.

More than 10,000 kilometres away in North Macedonia, high school student Eva Stojcevska found a way to keep her passion for drama alive, despite performances being cancelled.

To save her school’s annual cultural festival, the 16-year-old from Skopje and her friends reorganised it on Facebook instead where several dozen people took to the virtual stage for live shows.

With more than 40,000 views and rave reviews, it “turned out a lot better than expected”, she said.