Coronavirus pandemic: Through the eyes of the world's children

Last Updated 27 May 2020, 06:36 IST

These are children of the global pandemic. In the far-north Canadian town of Iqaluit, one boy has been glued to the news to learn everything he can about the coronavirus.

A girl in Australia sees a vibrant future, tinged with sadness for the lives lost. A Rwandan boy is afraid the military will violently crack down on its citizens when his country lifts the lockdown.

There is melancholy and boredom, and a lot of worrying, especially about parents working amid the disease, grandparents suddenly cut off from weekend visits, friends seen only on a video screen.

Some children feel safe and protected. Others are scared. And yet, many also find joy in play, and even silliness.

Associated Press reporters around the world asked kids about living with the virus and to use art to show us what they believe the future might hold. Some sketched or painted, while others sang, danced ballet, built with LEGOs.

A few just wanted to talk.

In the remote forests of northern California, one boy, a Karuk Indian, wrote a rap song to express his worries about how his tribe of just 5,000 will survive the pandemic.

Their worries are matched in many places by resilience and hope, for a life beyond the virus.

This is life under lockdown, through the eyes of children.

Lilitha Jiphethu has made a ball out of discarded plastic grocery bags to keep her amused during the lockdown. She and her four siblings play with that makeshift ball almost every day in a small scrub of ground that they've fenced off outside their home.

The 11-year-old screams as her brothers throw the ball at her. Then she laughs, picks up the ball and throws it back at them. This happens again and again.

Lilitha's house is like hundreds of others in this informal settlement of families just outside Johannesburg, South Africa's biggest city. It's made of sheets of scrap metal nailed to wooden beams.

Like many children under lockdown, she misses her friends and her teachers and especially misses playing her favorite game, netball. But she understands why school is closed and why they are being kept at home.

“I feel bad because I don't know if my family (can catch) this coronavirus,” Lilitha says. “I don't like it, this corona.” She prefers singing to drawing and chooses to sing a church song in her first language, Xhosa, as her way of describing the future after the pandemic. She misses her choir but takes comfort in the song's lyrics.

She smiles as she begins. Her sweet voice drifts through the one-room home.

“I have a friend in Jesus,” she sings. “He is loving and he's not like any other friend.

“He is not deceitful. He is not ashamed of us.

“He is truthful, and he is love.”

Hudson Drutchas waited and worried as his mom and sister recovered from coronavirus, quarantined in their rooms. Just a few weeks earlier, he was a busy sixth-grader at Lasalle II, a public elementary school in Chicago.

Then the governor issued a stay-at-home order.

Now, the soft-spoken 12-year-old receives school assignments by computer and looks to dog Ty and cat Teddy for comfort.

“Since I don't get to see my friends a lot, they're kind of my closest friends,” he says. He giggles when Teddy, now 9, snarls.

“He sometimes gets really grumpy because he's an old man. But we still love him a lot.” When not doing schoolwork, Hudson jumps and flips on his trampoline and lifts himself around a doorframe outfitted so he can practice climbing, something he usually does competitively.

He knows he's fortunate, with a good home and family to keep him safe, but it's difficult to be patient. “It makes me feel sad that I am missing out on a part of my childhood,” he says.

When he draws his version of the future, Hudson makes a detailed pencil sketch showing life before the coronavirus and after.

The world before looks stark and full of pollution in the drawing. In the future, the city is lush with clear skies and more wildlife and trees.

“I think the environment might kind of, like, replenish itself or maybe grow back,” Hudson says.

Still, he feels uncertain: “I'm worried about just how life will be after this. Like, will life change that much?”

Advait Vallabh Sanweria, age 9, grins as his younger brother lists all the things they've been doing during India's extended shutdown.

“We get spanked, scolded, watch movies, cook, sweep floors and use the phone and make Skype calls,” Uddhav Pratap Sanweria, age 8, says in Hindi.

At times the brothers are a bit of a comedy routine, or at least a danger to the furniture in their home. They've turned one room into a cricket pitch, with one brother bowling, or pitching, the ball, while the other bats. Other times, they play quieter games, such as chess or Uno.

Excited at first about school shutting down indefinitely, the brothers missed being able to go outside.

“It is frustrating to stay locked inside our homes,” Advait Vallabh, the 9-year-old says of the lockdown, which have since eased a little.

“When I get frustrated, sometimes I read a book. Sometimes I cry.” Recently, the brothers were excited to see a rainbow arching across blue skies outside their home.

“The weather has changed so much,” says Advait Vallabh, noting the visibly fresh air in New Delhi, as pollution in the otherwise choked city has cleared drastically during the lockdown.

Even with the ups and downs, the brothers believe the lockdown should continue for a year.

“They shouldn't reopen until the time there are zero cases left,” the younger Uddhav Pratap says.

(Published 27 May 2020, 06:36 IST)

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