Through kids' eyes: Virus outbreak brings sadness, fear, joy
CHICAGO (AP) — These are children of the 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, 11, SOUTH AFRICA
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.”
—Bram Janssen and Gerald Imray
HUDSON DRUTCHAS, 12, UNITED STATES
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?”
ALEXANDRA KUSTOVA, 12, RUSSIA
Hard times can have a silver lining. Alexandra Kustova has come to understand this during this pandemic.
Now that all her studies are conducted online, she has more time for her two favorite hobbies -- ballet and jigsaw puzzles. The 12-year-old also able to spend more time with her family and help her grandmother, who lives in the same building, two floors down at their apartment in Yekaterinburg, a city in the Urals, a mountain range that partly divides Europe and Asia.
Together, they take time to water tomato plants and enjoy one another’s company. Time has slowed down.
“Before that I would have breakfast with them, rush out to school, come back, have dinner, go to ballet classes, come back -- and it would already be time to go to bed,” Alexandra says.
Ballet has been her passion since she was 8. Now she does classes at home and sends videos of her drills to the trainer, who gives her feedback.
The dance she shows for an AP reporter begins slowly and finishes with leaps in the air.
Just like the pandemic, Alexandra says, it is “sad in the beginning and then it becomes joyful.”
“I believe the end is joyful because we must keep on living, keep on growing,” she says.
TRESOR NDIZIHIWE, 12, RWANDA
No school. No playing with friends. Soldiers everywhere. That’s life during the coronavirus pandemic for Tresor Ndizihiwe, a 12-year-old boy who lives in Rwanda, one of seven brothers and sisters.
Their mother, Jacqueline Mukantwari is paid $50 a month as a schoolteacher, but she used to earn extra money giving private lessons. That business has dried up, and the family gets food parcels from the government twice a month.
The only regular outside time Tresor has is in a small courtyard next to his home.
“The day becomes long,” he says in his native tongue, Kinyarwanda. “(You) can’t go out there” — he indicates the world outside his house — “and it makes me feel really uncomfortable.”
Tresor draws a picture of the future that shows soldiers shooting civilians who are protesting, he says. He adds dabs of red paint next to one of those who has fallen.
“There is blood,” he says, “and some are crying, as you can see.”
It’s a stark image for a boy to produce. Rwanda was the first country in Africa to enforce a total lockdown because of the virus. It’s also a place where the security forces meant to be helping keep people safe have been accused of serious abuses of power.
Yet he wants to be a soldier.
Jacqueline says her son is a good student — “so intelligent.” She struggles to reconcile his own desire to join the military with the picture he has drawn.
—Daniel Sabiiti and Gerald Imray
JEIMMER ALEJANDRO RIVEROS, 9, COLOMBIA
Life in Colombia’s countryside has become even more difficult for the family of Jeimmer Alejandro Riveros.
The price of herbs and vegetables his single mom and siblings cultivate on a farm in Chipaque have declined. A spotty internet connection makes virtual classes difficult, and a nationwide quarantine means less time outdoors.
“Here is a mountain with a river,” Jeimmer, 9, says, pointing at each item in his drawing. In his mind, the future doesn’t look so different. “Here I am. Here’s my mommy. Here is my brother. Here is my house. Here is the sun and here is the sky.”
The family recently launched a YouTube channel with videos showing how to grow and propagate plants that now has more than 420,000 followers. Their first video, introducing the Jeimmer’s mom, older brother and dog, has garnered, by now, more than 1 million views.
“Let’s make this go viral!” Jeimmer says, as birds chirp in the background.
Colombia is one of Latin America’s most unequal countries, and poverty abounds in rural areas where many still lack basic utilities like safe drinking water. Jeimmer’s family often walks 40 minutes a day to get fresh milk.
Capital city Bogota — about an hour from the family’s farm — has the highest number of coronavirus cases in Colombia. But cases are increasingly being identified in rural areas with few hospitals. Chipaque reported its first case earlier this month.
Despite the obstacles, Jeimmer maintains an upbeat outlook on life under quarantine. He feels safe from the virus with his mom and brother. And he imagines a future with more time spent outdoors and one day, a grown-up job.
“It doesn’t matter that we’re in lockdown,” he says. “We can be happy.”
ISHIKIIHARA E-KOR, 11, UNITED STATES
Ishikiihara E-kor misses all the normal kid things during the pandemic: playing baseball, hanging out with friends and having a real party for his 11th birthday, which he instead celebrated with relatives on a Zoom call. The internet periodically goes out for hours, making it hard for him to complete his school work, so he plays with his dog, Navi Noop Noop.
But Shikii, as his friends call him, also has bigger things on his mind. He’s a Karuk Indian, a member of California’s second-largest tribe, and has been reading about how the pandemic is rampaging through the Navajo Nation, another tribe hundreds of miles away.
The virus can feel far away in the tribe’s tiny outpost of Orleans, California, where the crystal clear lower Klamath River winds through densely forested mountains south of the Oregon-California border. But in a rap Shikii wrote, he urged fellow tribal members not to get complacent.
“Stay away, man, 6 feet at least. Social distancing, it’s a thing that could save us. What? Like 5,000 of us left, Karuk tribe, man, that’s it.”
Ishikiihara, whose full name means “sturgeon warrior” in the Karuk language, later adds, “If we even just lost a few people, that would be really sad."
Rapping about his worries isn’t new for him. He has a song about how his tribe lost its tradition fishing salmon runs on the Klamath River, pondering in verse why the Karuk “needed permission to go fishin’.”
BANEEN AHMED, 10, JORDAN
Despite the harshness she has experienced, the quiet, studious girl is brimming with hard-won optimism.
Her family’s suffering in war-time Iraq has taught Baneen Ahmed that outside events can turn life upside down in an instant. In the chaotic aftermath of the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, an uncle was kidnapped, and a great-uncle was killed by armed militias, forcing her family to seek refuge in Jordan.
By comparison, the coronavirus pandemic seems manageable, the 10-year-old says. Scientists will find a vaccine, she says, speaking in halting but vocabulary-rich English, her favorite subject of study at a private school in the Jordanian capital of Amman.
“It’s going to take a year or a little bit to find a cure, so it’s going to end,” says Baneen, who prefers to talk and show how she’s studying at home under lockdown, rather than drawing a picture.
“In Iraq, it’s not going to end,” she continues. “It’s like so hard to end it, the killing and the kidnapping.”
In the future, she sees herself studying abroad, maybe in the United States or Turkey. She’s thought about a career in medicine, but is excited by any opportunity to learn. For her, school represents hope.
“I want to go somewhere else because they will let us study good things,” Baneen says. “And my future is going to be good.”
ELENA MORETTI, 11, ITALY
For Elena Moretti, the pandemic is not some faraway threat. Italy was the first European country to be hit by COVID-19, and her mother is a doctor in the public health system that has seen 27,500 personnel infected and more than 160 doctors dead nationwide.
Elena, 11, is afraid of the coronavirus. Whenever a package arrives in the mail, she brings it out onto the terrace and disinfects it with a spray-bottle soap solution she made herself.
It's a bottle, too, in Elena's drawing, capturing the virus inside.
“The virus wanted to attack us, so instead of bringing us down, we counterattack and imprison it,” she said of her drawing.
That fighting spirit has helped Elena get through more than two months of lockdown. After an initial spell of sleeping late because her teachers hadn’t transitioned to remote learning, Elena now does schoolwork, karate and hip-hop lessons online.
Sometimes the internet connection goes out. But she’s still managed to keep in touch with friends, with some video chats lasting for hours. She’s also discovered a new hobby, baking sweets — apple tort, cupcakes and cream-filled pastry.
Now that Italy’s lockdown has begun to ease, Elena is starting to go out again, but the fear remains.
“I’m afraid it might spread even more and take all of us,” she said.
NIKI JOLENE BERGHAMRE-DAVIS, 11, AUSTRALIA
When she doesn’t move enough, she doesn’t sleep well. So, Niki Jolene Berghamre-Davis tries to go hiking in the forest whenever possible during this global pandemic. Even in the best of times, that’s where the 11-year-old from Port Melbourne, Australia, feels most at home.
“She is our nature girl,” says her mother, Anna Berghamre.
Her mom wasn’t surprised when Niki Jolene drew a self-portrait of herself facing a grove of trees. Within the drawing, there are signs of caution.
“I have a face mask in my hand,” she says holding up the drawing, “because, well, I’ve just kind of taken it off, and I’m still aware.”
She says that falling leaves she included in the sketch symbolize the lives that have been lost in this pandemic.
Yet the roots of the trees — wide and prominent like those of the flowering red gum trees near her family’s townhome — represent “possibilities,” says the bubbly girl, known as “Snickers” to some of her friends. She smiles often, showing a full set of braces on her teeth.
“After this corona pandemic, after this will end, I think it will be much more full of life,” she says, throwing her arms up for emphasis. She hopes, for instance, that people will walk more and drive less because she’s noticed how people in her neighborhood have often done without their cars during the shutdown.
“I think people won’t take things for granted anymore.”
DANYLO BOICHUK, 12, UKRAINE
Danylo Boichuk envies his cat, Kari, who is able to escape from the family home in a Kyiv suburb and run free. Because of the pandemic, his family had to cancel a summer camp in Bulgaria, and 12-year-old Danylo worries a lot about closed borders.
Sitting on his back porch, he has used his LEGO blocks and figures to create his version of the future — a situation at the border.
“Here is a vessel en route to Copenhagen, and border guards are inspecting it,” Danylo explains, pointing to particular pieces and holding up others. “This crew member shows medical evidence that everyone on board is healthy, except for one man in an isolation cell.”
The plastic figure makes a rattling sound after he drops it into the makeshift jail.
“There is a security guard restricting contact with the man,” he continues. “There are IT specialists at work. There are also people who lost their jobs — musicians, farmers, showmen.”
The boy wonders if authorities in some countries will use the coronavirus crisis to tighten their grip on people’s lives. “For example, they may implant chips to track (people’s) whereabouts … ,” Danylo surmises.
His parents say he has an analytical mind. Already, he wants to become a businessman in the future and create a start-up to develop online games. He’s been reading books about Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple, and other famous entrepreneurs, during self-isolation.
After the pandemic, he says people will invest more in internet products and games.
“This is an opportunity one should use,” he says.
ANA LAURA RAMÍREZ LAVANDERO, 10, CUBA
Her drawing depicts a simple enough dream for a 10-year-old — “Viaje a la Playa,” a trip to the beach. On the page, she has colored a palm tree with three brown coconuts, a boat floating in the distance and a shining yellow sun.
It is a scene representative of life on her island country, known for its white sand and aqua-blue waters. For now, however, Ana Laura Ramírez Lavandero can only dream of the beach. Under lockdown, she finds herself confined to the fourth-floor apartment she shares with her parents and grandmother. On the balcony, she watches life through a rusted iron trellis. It can seem like a jail.
“My life changed,” says the girl, who’s accustomed to playing on the streets of her working and middle-income neighborhood in Havana.
The only time she’s been able to go out in nearly two months has been for an emergency trip to the dentist. Schools are closed, and because many people in Cuba don’t have internet, the education ministry is broadcasting lessons on state television.
Ana Laura dreams of becoming a famous drummer. This was her first year at a highly selective institute for students identified early on as musically talented. She is continuing with classes in math, history and Spanish, but not music.
Her children’s chorus also can’t meet right now. Usually, her own choir meets alongside another one, with boys and girls of all ages.
“People feel united in the chorus,” she says wistfully. She can’t wait to see them again.
SANWERIA BROTHERS, 8 AND 9, INDIA
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.
—Rishi Lekhi and Rishabh Raj Jain
OWEN WATSON, 12, CANADA
Dressed in a puffy parka made by his mom and with cellphone in hand, Owen Watson gives a tour of his town, Iqaluit, in the far-north Canadian territory of Nunavut. There’s still snow on the ground in May, though the days are getting longer in this place known for its spectacular views of the northern lights.
“That light blue place is the school that I used to go to,” 12-year-old Owen says of the shuttered structure behind him. Then he turns to a playground. “It’s not supposed to be played with right now.”
Surrounded by rivers, lakes and the ocean, filled with Arctic char, his dad, Aaron Watson, says the name of their town means “fishes” in Inuktitut, the language spoken by this region's Inuit people, which includes Owen and his mom and sister. Dad is originally from Stratford, Ontario, and works in the tourism industry in Nunavut.
Under nationwide shutdown, Owen has kept busy with packets of work from his teachers. He rides his bike around the even-quieter-than-usual town – and tries not to worry too much.
His dad observes how much Owen has been watching news about the coronavirus and wonders if they’re raising a future scientist.
So far, there have been no documented cases of the coronavirus in the town of about 8,000 people, many of whom work for the federal government and the city. When flights are running, they can fly to the Canadian capital, Ottawa, in three hours.
So young Owen thinks it’s only a matter of time before the virus arrives. “If it gets here,” he says, “I’ll be more afraid.”
He waits and watches. The sun sets to the west, as clouds reflect soft shades of pink and purple. It’s a lot for a boy to think about.