24 August 2020

The Lockdown Diaries, July 2020. “It’s like fleas in a dog…”

Child’s painting of a family

Across the world the Coronavirus pandemic has had a remarkably similar impact: the closure of schools, playgrounds and public places, bustling places falling eerily silent, people retreating behind closed doors. Children and young people are living through circumstances unique to our age. In order to discover more about their personal experience, our colleagues reached 168 children and young people under lockdown by using great ingenuity—from WhatsApp calls in Sudan to painting competitions in Romania, poetry writing in Bulgaria to games in Moldova. Head of Safeguarding at Hope and Homes for Children, Joe Glackin, considers what these young voices begin to ask us, in return.

Joe Glackin

When you ask 163 children of all ages and backgrounds from ten countries about their experience of the Coronavirus pandemic, and especially the lockdown, you might expect to get a huge jumble of replies—which is exactly what we did get. But among that jumble of words, pictures, poems and songs some very clear ideas and themes emerged. Children and young people from Romania and Rwanda, South Africa and Sudan, Bulgaria, Bosnia and Moldova, Nepal, Transnistria and Ukraine were remarkably united about what they thought of their experiences: their fears, their opinions and their expectations for the future.

As the pandemic continues to roll around the world, as countries open and close borders and world leaders argue about the best way to deal with it, I think Ivan from Ukraine at age 11 grasped it with a clarity others have missed.

 

“Ah, thank you, I have understood everything. It’s like fleas in a dog. If you have already had fleas, then all the dogs will have fleas who walk nearby it.”

 

Not a bad summary and it does make you wonder why, if Ivan can understand it, the crowds of people thronging beaches, pubs and beauty spots don’t—or refuse to. Sometimes seeing with the eyes of a child can go straight to the heart of an issue.

But ‘seeing with the eyes of a child’ can sound sentimental and a tad patronising and there was nothing sentimental about what these children and young people thought and said. It was clear.

They were afraid.
They were appreciative.
They were resilient.
They were concerned.
They were optimistic.

They were understandably afraid of what this pandemic might do to their families friends and way of life, but were also certain that some of this fear might have been allayed earlier if adults—carers, teachers, parents—had taken more time to talk to them, to explain what was happening, to answer questions honestly, to ask their opinions.
 

Child’s painting

 

“Others said they had been told nothing or were simply ordered to ‘stay indoors,’ ‘wash your hands’ or the else the ‘new flu’ would kill them. When they were given the real facts about the virus most of them said it reduced their fear and increased their understanding and their willingness to ‘obey the rules’ because they understood why.”

 

They were also, if not more so, afraid for others. Not only for their families but for the vulnerable people who would be more affected and the frontline workers. How will the old people get their food? What about people who have lost their jobs and can’t buy food? What about the police, the doctors and nurses who have to continue working? In the midst of their worries, boredom and frustration they had time to think and be concerned for others.

 

“I feel bad that some people cannot go to the funeral of their relatives, some people who still go to work are being exposed to the illness, the shops and jobs are closing down, elderly with diseases might die due to their condition…”

 

Child’s self portrait
 

But what shone through so many of their responses was an incredible resilience, an ability to live with tension and worry balanced by optimism, humour and rooted in a trust of adults but also a belief in themselves, their abilities and their own observations. The kind of resilience that comes from children who have experienced abuse, violence and deprivation but have come out, or are coming out of that, as stronger more robust people.

When I read again their answers my thought was not that it is nice to hear what these children and young people have to say, but something more urgent. If we as adults really listen and take seriously what children and young people are saying—allowing them to really question us, hold us to account, and let their voices change how we think, what we do, who we are—then we have the opportunity to create a real partnership  which will enable them to truly become agents of their own growth and change. And for us to become supporters of that change in the best way possible.

 

“I think we will appreciate more the communities we are living in, I think we will have a different view on how much we spend on goods and wellbeing. I also think we will have more time for the loved ones… can’t wait to hug my family.”

 

Read a PDF of the full Lockdown Diaries, featuring more quotes, pictures and analysis.

 
Child’s painting of a Coronavirus cell