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Fang Xinyi: Coordinating global child protection amid COVID-19 pandemic

JUN . 11 2020

Peking University, June 11, 2020: As COVID-19 extends its reach globally, countries around the world grapple with troubling effects on local society, politics and the economy. A lesser known and often ignored effect of the global health crisis is its direct and indirect impacts on humanitarian intervention, in particular child protection efforts in various regions, especially vulnerable localities with dense populations and scarce facilities.

Fang Xinyi

For Fang Xinyi, who pursues a Master’s degree in World History in the Department of History at Peking University, the matter is hardly foreign. Xinyi hails from Wuhan, once the epicenter of the pandemic. During the Lunar New Year holidays, Wuhan went into lockdown and Xinyi was unable to return home. In February, Xinyi embarked on a solo trip to Geneva, where she is serving an internship in UNICEF’s Office of Emergency Programmes (EMOPS), specifically throwing her weight behind the Child Protection Area of Responsibility (CP AoR).

Why children?

Xinyi feels strongly for CP AoR’s cause, saying, “Children, while not as physically susceptible to the virus as the old are, can nonetheless be hard hit emotionally.” The pandemic might be a source of great confusion for children whose lives have faced major disruption. Under quarantine, children are unable to play outside, attend school or meet their family and friends, concepts difficult to process. Prolonged confinement indoors further adds to their emotional stress. Hence, Xinyi and her team feel it imperative that children receive explanation regarding the situation and education regarding measures for self-protection in these dire times. To this regard, UNICEF has partnered with other global agencies to develop My Hero is You, a fictional storybook that aims at helping kids all around the world understand the pandemic. Xinyi helps by coordinating the audio files of its various translations.

Illustration of the storybook My Hero is You

Facilitating cross-border sharing of resources

As Xinyi puts it, “CP AoR is akin to a think tank that operates on a global scale”. Effectively Xinyi and her team are responsible for collecting information from a variety of countries and facilitating cross-border sharing of information. In the midst of the pandemic, the team is compiling and organizing professional information regarding child protection. Afterwards, the selected documents are translated for coordinated use in target countries and regions.

The team sees great value on increasing accessibility of information during the pandemic. Many team members who work for UNICEF and other non-governmental organizations in the same field are able to make use of extensive connections to obtain a wide variety of resources. Xinyi works tirelessly to compile the documents provided. She converts these documents into drafts for audio clips, sends these clips to companies to be made into audio clips, and uploads the completed clips onto an official resource website. Xinyi acts as a focal point, indispensable to her team’s progress.

CP AoR official website

Today, the team has put out a website (https://cpaor-audiofiles.com) that provides free podcasts in different languages to be downloaded and used for media play in respective localities. Low-cost radio broadcast is a popular choice in the dissemination of information in areas with patchy access to Wi-Fi. Hence, whether it be radio stations in the Middle East and Africa, or limited broadcasting services in refugee camps, Xinyi believes that the audio clips will serve them well. The team recently also launched their new official website (https://www.cpaor.net/ ), which provides a wealth of information including regularly updated resources and information about child protection during the COVID-19 pandemic. Demand for these resources are no doubt notable. Xinyi remarks that the official website saw nearly 2000 clicks upon the first few days of inception. “Local forces have been eager in seeking out reliable resources provided by figures of authority,” she said.

However, effects of the pandemic run beyond confusion. Xinyi explains that homebound children are more exposed to abuse and gender-based violence, and “where schools have shut down and cannot resort to digital platforms, children also don’t receive adequate education.” The fact that many humanitarian efforts have ground to a hasty halt adds to the problem. Xinyi and her team have received numerous emails inquiring on how to push through with humanitarian efforts in the midst of strict quarantine. “In refugee camps reliant on scarce aid,” Xinyi explained, “their condition can only worsen.” Many of Xinyi’s colleagues had originally been due for deployment to deliver resources and coordinate child protection efforts in affected countries. This forms part of the team’s in-country support work, which in 2019 saw 53 deployments in 28 countries. However, field support had to be scaled down or put off because of local quarantine. As a result, Xinyi and her team have tried their best to step up communication. They have been busier than ever as online coordination with target localities intensify. Though the team works at home, they have been highly efficient. Working alongside teammates with a heightened sense of purpose has been a source of great inspiration for Xinyi.

Guidelines for child protection

Xinyi and her team also focus on providing guidelines and response plans on child protection, helping governments to prioritize the allocation of resources for the cause. The team consists of professionals well-versed in child protection, regional coordination and regional protection matters amongst other areas of expertise. Select team members work to come up with guiding protocols and proposals that will aid countries in carrying out child protection work.

Xinyi and her team work online amid the COVID-19 pandemic

As of late, Xinyi has been engaged in analytical work. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) releases Humanitarian Needs Overviews (HNO) and the Humanitarian Response Plans (HRP) annually. CP AoR first identifies components in these reports which pertain specifically to child protection, then employs a set of indicators to analyze stated efforts in key aspects such as effectiveness, distribution, and levels of collaboration. Xinyi compiles the HNO and HRP reports of different countries, meticulously picks out and analyses telling indicators in each report, and presents her data to the team. For instance, Xinyi looks out for allocation for child protection in the funding requirements and how that measures up against the total capital set aside for humanitarian efforts. The data plays a key role in the making of CP AoR’s comprehensive and multi-sectoral approach.

Challenges and prospects

Xinyi’s journey has come with its fair share of challenges. For one, Xinyi had to familiarize herself with technicalities once foreign, for instance the visualization of data sets and website management. She was however quickly able to overcome these hurdles, owing both to the help of colleagues and passage of practice. A background in history and debating experiences has also provided her with the skills necessary to analyze vast amounts of information.

In a global health crisis, the global community needs to stick together more than ever.
For countries in emergency situations, global organizations like the UN can be their only source of support. Xinyi’s experience shows that logistical and coordinative support prove vital in helping countries combat the pandemic. Developed countries like Sweden also look to the UN for analytical reports and guidance. Xinyi currently plays an assistive role in the team, and hopes to be able to contribute to the cause further.

Xinyi in Geneva

For Xinyi, working in quarantine has been memorable, to say the least. She has forged meaningful friendships with colleagues from across the globe. They regularly share a leisurely drink and chat online in their spare time. In Geneva, Xinyi has experienced first-hand and contributed to an international unity that is so crucial at a time where varying forces tug at the threads that bind us together. Strong are the voices calling for joint efforts worldwide in times of adversity. PKU students like Fang Xinyi, equipped with drive and a global consciousness, are responding proudly to the call.

Written by: Li Wanqi
Edited by: Huang Weijian, Ciara Morris