In the posh streets of central Paris this Saturday evening, a swarm of young people helping the homeless: rare “Positive effect” of the pandemic, more and more young people are getting involved with vulnerable populations, note national associations.
“There is a real outpouring of solidarity” since the start of the Covid-19 epidemic in France, especially young people, rejoices a homeless man stirring his coffee a few steps from the Town Hall.
At his side, having served him a healthy hot drink in this still chilly month of May, a “Bunch of very close friends” from Colombes and Puteaux (Hauts-de-Seine) make a rapid assessment of the products they have collected or bought for their bimonthly marauding: foodstuffs, thermos, hygiene products, clothes, etc.
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Carrying heavy bags in the streets of Paris, this twenty young volunteers recount the shock of the epidemic which prompted them to act.
“During the first confinement, the rare times I went out on the street, the only people I saw were homeless people. We saw them even more ”, remembers Karl Ghanem, 25-year-old engineer and founder of the association Tous Solid’R.
“The streets were empty, they must have felt even more isolated”, adds Afif, a student of the same age.
“It broke my heart”
During the first confinement, Aboubakar Sissoko, 25, animator in Courbevoie and on football and handball fields the rest of the time, suddenly had ” free time “ with the closing of clubs: “It was time to get started. “
And at the age of 26, Yosra Mokhtari, frightened, saw the homeless flock to the emergency room of the hospital where she works as a nurse.
This precariousness, they noticed it in the streets, in the hospital but also in the universities, like Mona-Lisa Assad, student, who saw her comrades “Stand in line for food”. “It broke my heart”, she says.
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“In recent years, young people have already represented the part of the population that is most committed”, recalls Caroline Soubie, head of the Engagement department of the Red Cross but “The crisis has only reinforced their desire to act”.
The associations questioned by AFP are unanimous: since the migration crisis and the terrorist attacks of 2015, they have observed waves of commitment which young people are happy to join.
But far from a “Peak effect”, the engagement of young people during the health crisis “Endures”, welcomes Etienne Mangeard, director of the volunteer service of the Salvation Army.
Before Covid-19, 28% of the volunteers in this structure were under 30, a ratio that rose to 40% in 2020 and which remains at 35% in 2021.
“Minors 15 or 16 years old”
The very young generations, “Minors of 15 or 16 years old” even come knocking on the doors of associations. A phenomenon “A little new. It existed (before) but I find that the proportion is increasing “, Etienne Mangeard is surprised.
This movement is “Powerful” for Jacques Malet, president of Recherches et Solidarités, a network of experts and academics studying the associative environment. Especially since these figures are underestimated, many young people preferring informal associations, not counted by studies, notes the former magistrate.
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“It crosses all of France and all social strata”, also estimates Isabelle Persoz, president of the platform All volunteers, of which 30% of those registered are under 25 years old.
These volunteers, “Available in the evening, on weekends and who have a different sensitivity” make it possible to fill gaps in terms of activities, especially in certain geographical areas without groups of volunteers before the pandemic, notes Emmanuel Curis, youth volunteer manager at Secours Catholique.
A truly ” breath of fresh air “ within teams often exhausted by the health crisis, abounds Claude Bougère, responsible for volunteering at Restos du Cœur. At the start of the pandemic, social associations lost 40% of their volunteer staff, often elderly and reluctant to expose themselves to the virus, figures Jacques Malet.
Young people, “At ease with digital”, made it possible to expand the offer of “Tele-volunteering” : communication, accounting, reflection, research and funding, support for beneficiaries at a distance, further notes the president.
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This rejuvenation delights Isabelle Persoz who remembers that ten years ago, associations “Dreamed of retirees” that they thought they were more available and were reluctant to welcome young people, “Deemed unreliable”.
“If we can get something positive [de cette pandémie], it is true intergenerational solidarity that has been put in place ”, concludes Etienne Mangeard.