From knowledge production to the struggle for education and mental health: young people get mobilized during the pandemic

According to Jeane Sacramento, the number of young people from around Bahia who are members of the Movement of Artisanal Fishermen and Women (Movimento de Pescadores e Pescadoras Artesanais: MPP) and are entering university has risen.  As a young woman, she points out that one of the reasons for this growth is a desire for autonomy.

“We can no longer accept outside people from universities coming in to collect information, since, over time, they haven’t brought the results back to us. Our young people are at university, we are researchers of our own community and can talk about our history,” she declared.

This was one of the points made during the virtual “Roundtable Conversations: CESE and Young People 2021” held by the Ecumenical Coordination of Service (Coordenadoria Ecumênica de Serviço: CESE) on July 15. The meeting provided a means of bringing different groups of young people together to listen to their situations and experiences and to initiate dialogue to support small projects, which have their deepest roots directly nourished by their hands.

These same young people have been taking the lead in various projects within their communities. Jeane confirmed that, during the pandemic, young people in their community were involved in projects for the purchase and distribution of staple food baskets, hygiene kits and the exchange of types of food prevalent in the local cultures of various regions and cities in Bahia, as a way to combat hunger.

Jeane Sacramento, member of the Movement of Artisanal Fishermen and Women

For its part, the pandemic has created countless challenges for young people in the countryside and the urban peripheries.  Brazilian state education, which has already be intentionally dismantled by the State, has witnessed one of its worst (if not the worst) moments, with the total paralysation of activities and the suspension of the in-person classes we are used to, for more than a year.

Young people from the peripheries of cities such as Salvador and others who live in rural areas have been the most affected, since in these regions quality internet access is much rarer.  At first, the virtual resumption of classes was not even a possibility in most state schools. This is the loss of a basic right in a situation that is already, in itself, extremely chaotic.

Leaders from several youth fronts highlighted mental health as of the main challenges at this time of the pandemic; an issue that requires a great deal of attention. In a country that kills 63 thousand black young people per year, according to data from the Atlas of Violence published in 2020, social inequality and structural racism have even taken the life of a young person who was simply holding an umbrella.

Afraid of dying at the hands of the State or becoming infected by an invisible virus, with even more precarious access to education, health, work and income, mental health is constantly oscillating.  Adriana Santos Silva, from the Coalition of Young Black Feminists (Articulação de Negras Jovens Feministas), reinforced the importance of this agenda within her group. “We need to take care of this issue, which has been pushed to the side for such a long time. Within Brazilian society it is still undervalued,” she noted.

Adriana Santos Silva, from the Coalition of Young Black Feminists

As well as creating even more social turbulence, the pandemic has also deepened inequalities against LGBTQIA+ people. In reference to this group, Matheus Araújo, from the Movement for the Struggle in the Neighbourhoods, Villages and Favelas (Movimento de Luta nos Bairros, Vilas e Favelas: MLB), talked about the police repression of social movements.

“We’ve really felt this criminalization, from both the Federal and State governments.  We’ve faced evictions during the pandemic, involving young people in both urban or rural areas.  We’ve faced police repression within the favelas.  Here, the Military Police shot a young person – in the back – alleging that they’d confused him with a drug trafficker, as if that would have been fine,” he remembered.

Matheus Araújo, from the Movement for the Struggle in the Neighbourhoods, Villages and Favelas

These young people’s struggle is for autonomy, to guarantee quality education for all, for mental health, but also for recognition.  For access to public policies.  Access to decision-making arenas, not only to enact the decisions made by third parties.  The struggle is for training, to make the fight more professional and politicized.  It involves combatting structural inequalities, racism, gender violence and violence against traditional peoples.


The Roundtable Conversations

The Roundtable Conversations: CESE and Young People 2021 was the initiative’s second edition.  The first was held in 2020 and was attended by young people from 20 organizations, providing an opportunity to support 14 projects.  This year, 25 organizations were involved.

These roundtables are aimed at strengthening dialogue and proximity between CESE and a range of young people’s organizations and expressions involved in the defence of rights, based on listening to their main demands, priorities and the context in which the various groups and territories are situated. The idea is also to provide support through CESE’s reflections about its work with young people and to foster initiatives to strengthen the strategies of groups/collectives via support for projects.

The meeting was attended by several, diverse fronts, particularly from the Northeast, North and Central-West regions, from urban and rural environments, involving, among others, black, peasant, indigenous, LGBTQIA+ and quilombola young people, including young women, from different cultural expressions and religions.