June 16, 1971. More than 20,000 South African students take to the streets in the township of Soweto to protest the poor quality of apartheid-inspired education and to demand to be taught in their own language. Armed police officers respond by brutally murdering hundreds of young protesters.

The dramatic events in Soweto profoundly changed the socio-political landscape in South Africa. In 1991, the then called Organisation of African Unity (OAU) – now the African Union (AU) – initiated the first Day of the African Child to commemorate the event and to focus on the barriers young African people face in order to receive a quality education.

Today, the COVID-19 crisis poses new challenges for education around the globe, and Africa is certainly no exception. Of the 57 million primary school-age children currently out of school around the world, over half are from sub-Saharan Africa. Moreover, the pandemic threatens educational progress through the closing of schools and the looming economic recession caused by the restrictive measures taken.

In order to share stories on how the crisis affects the activities of non-profit organisations in different African countries, Mobile School organised an online prospect exchange. During a one and a half hour Zoom call, organisations working with street-connected youth on the continent were able to discuss challenges and share best practices on how their teams are dealing with the new normal.

From Somaliland, over Uganda to Sierra Leone, organisations faced similar challenges. Schools were closed, street work interventions were forbidden, drop-in-centres were shut down or forced to operate under strict guidelines and travel restrictions made the reintegration of street-connected young people both more difficult and more expensive. Furthermore, organisations were confronted with more expenses due to the rise in prices, while, on the income side, donors were forced to cut the budget for some projects.

Luckily, these organisations are masters in adapting to new realities and coming up with creative solutions to overcome crisis situations. In Somaliland, the team of YEEL Volunteers is going digital to offer online sessions, while also raising awareness among the kids with brochures and books. In Malawi, YONECO made sure the government recognised their activities as essential services. Through their child helpline, they are able to detect cases of abuse during the crisis and thanks to their own radio station, YONECO FM, the organisation is able to disseminate accurate information about the virus. In Uganda, Dwelling Places, Save Street Children Uganda and SALVE International are involved in crucial advocacy work to convince local leaders and the media that street-connected children need to be taken into account during these challenging times. In Dodoma in Tanzania, social workers of KISEDET turned to phone calls to stay in close touch with their beneficiaries, and in Freetown – the capital of Sierra Leone – We Yone Child Foundation is making sure children and families in the slum communities get access to handwashing equipment and face masks.

The exchange call was too short to discuss all aspects and consequences of the COVID-19 crisis, but all participants left motivated and inspired to continue their amazing work on the streets. In the coming months, they will continue to be on the forefront of the fight against COVID-19 in order to protect the rights of children and to make sure all young people have the right to a quality education.

Special thanks to the participating organisations: YEEL Volunteers (Somaliland), We Yone Child Foundation (Sierra Leone), SALVE International (Uganda), Save Street Children Uganda (Uganda), Dwelling Places (Uganda), KISEDET (Tanzania) and YONECO (Malawi).