Empowering Youth During a Pandemic

Posted on June 4, 2020
By Tyler Colbourne

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Description automatically generatedWe are living in complex times, and now more than ever we need to focus on relationships. With COVID-19, our work doesn't just change, it becomes more important. We need to build in time and space for people to explore and engage in conversations which allow them to feel socially and emotionally supported. 


A lot has changed in the last few weeks. I flew home from the National Gathering for Communities Building Youth Futures (CBYF) on March 13th and came home to what felt like a different reality. In Kitchener-Waterloo, I had the privilege of spending the week with amazing people from all over the country, talking about Collective Impact and systemic change. Through this, I was unaware of how much change was still yet to happen just on the other side of a flight back to my home province of Nova Scotia. Being in conversation that week with people from many organizations, working on interventions from the micro to the macro scale, I was reminded that our work with communities around complex social challenges is more important, now more than ever. As COVID-19 impacts the way we live, work, and engage in community, I find myself wondering, how do we do our work without perpetuating or sustaining the challenges which have come before and possibly could continue beyond the pandemic?

The work of Inspiring Communities is about fostering the conditions which support positive systemic change and a key part of this is focusing on relationships. Due to COVID-19, we are seeing many changes and adaptations happening in real time, which is impacting our ability to foster positive relationships. The individuals who support our work across Atlantic Canada have faced significant changes and we have adapted, turning to online formats to foster relationships and collaboration. To do this well in the time of COVID-19, we must create space for conversations that explore the impacts of the pandemic and allow us to deepen our relationships. 

Holding conversations about the impacts of the pandemic isn’t easy. People are experiencing fear, insecurity with their livelihoods, and complex social challenges are being amplified. In our work with CBYF in Digby, we have shifted and adapted our plans so that we can continue to work and support youth through an online medium. In rush to do everything online, are we at risk of recreating many of the challenges that we are committed to working through? I also wonder, does shifting to online work sustain or create power asymmetry? Online meetings have been a great way for people to stay in touch and continue valuable community-based work. However, without the in-person component, are we limited in our ability to organically cultivate and sustain the relationships needed for impactful work to occur? For the youth we work with, it is important to create space to talk about the things they are missing, the fears they might have, and the ways they have been resilient and adaptive. This is becoming patterned into our new way of working and it is being considered when planning how we want to work with youth in Communities Building Youth Futures. As we consider how this new way of working is impacting us, we also want to ask, how can we use this as an opportunity to build deeper and more resilient relationships with youth in our communities? 

At Inspiring Communities, we have developed a youth photovoice project. This was done in collaboration with the Atlantic Council for International Cooperation (ACIC) through WeavEast, and relationships are at the heart of the project. The photovoice project was created before COVID-19 significantly shifted how we work, but it was created to help youth from across Atlantic Canada to communicate how systems influence their day-to-day lives.

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The plan has shifted slightly since the pandemic, but suddenly the work has taken on a new level of richness where we see the importance of holding space for deep conversationsEmpowering youth to participate in this project allows for the work to continue on, while also creating opportunities for them to communicate how they are being impacted by systems, even if it is in relation to the pandemic. We are doing our best to be adaptive and fluid in this time of uncertainty and we are striving to create more spaces where youth and others can contribute as their whole selves, with their own voices.  

Our work was complex before, and it has become even more complex with COVID-19. However, through the uncertainty and ambiguity, we are also gaining clarity around the importance of relationships. Through this new way of working and being, we have the opportunity to show up with compassion and reflexivity. It is my hope that this new way of being and working will allow us to emerge from this with stronger relationships and more resilient communities. 


Learn More:


Youth, Blog, Community Change, COVID-19

Tyler Colbourne

By Tyler Colbourne

Tyler Colbourne is a creative and dynamic leader with a passion for social justice, community development, and finding a way to have more fun. Throughout his career he has been a community worker, photographer, podcaster, improviser, communications manager, youth worker, and even a pirate. He is a natural community connector and his work as the Community Animator with Inspiring Communities brings together individuals and communities, helping strengthen relationships and the sharing of knowledge, values, and skills.

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