Chicago freshmen connect teens around the globe to help fix what coronavirus is breaking.
By Heidi Stevens, Chicago Tribune, April 21, 2020
In a way, Krishita Dutta and Lauren Tapper have never felt more isolated.
The ninth graders at the University of Chicago Lab School have been holed up at their respective homes since mid-March, when their classes were all moved online because of the coronavirus. Tapper's Model UN conference this month, the one her team prepared for all year, was canceled. Dutta can't get together with her fellow volunteers at Circle of Hope, which helps girls and women in India.
"It has been really difficult, even though I am an optimist," Dutta, 14, told me. "Some days I feel really hopeful. Other days I feel really freaked out over what's going to happen."
At the same time, they've never felt more connected to their peers in other schools, other states, other countries even.
"Everyone is going through this, whether we speak the same language, whether we're even in the same country," Dutta said. "We're all going through the same thing."
Shortly after their lives moved mostly indoors and online, the two friends launched a website called COVID-TV (www.covid-tv.com) for teenagers to share blog posts about their lives during the coronavirus pandemic. They asked their friends and family members to spread the word. Dutta, who lived in Singapore and India when she was younger, contacted some friends abroad and asked them to take part.
Posts started to pour in by the dozens — from Nebraska, from Texas, from Colorado, from Mumbai. Kids wrote about empathy and loneliness and the power of doing nothing and silver linings and warding off panic attacks and gratitude for health care workers and making art and making music and having trouble sleeping.
"We really couldn't have imagined how big it would get," Tapper, 14, said.
They estimate they've heard from students from 36 schools in 21 cities and six countries. All living through a pandemic. All adjusting to a new normal, whatever that means. All weighing their own losses and cancellations and grief against what the people around them are enduring.
Tapper and Dutta decided to assign their growing community a mission.
"We're trying to give teenagers independence and a voice during this time," Tapper said.
They added a community projects tab to their site, established four ways to take action and put out a call for teen ambassadors.
You can sign up to sew masks for hospital staff and other essential workers and lead your friends and peers in doing the same. (The group has sewed 4,688 masks so far.)
You can raise and/or donate money to an organization that supports the rapidly growing number of people who find themselves unemployed because of the coronavirus. (The site encourages teens to research local GoFundMe and relief funds, including the Chicago Community COVID-19 Response Fund.)
You can start or contribute to a fundraiser for families who don't have enough food. Tapper and Dutta are pointing people, for starters, to Meals on Wheels, No Kid Hungry and Greater Chicago Food Depository.
You can write a letter to Congress, and ask your friends and family to do the same, encouraging your representatives to pass legislation that helps communities most impacted by the coronavirus. "Send letters to Congress about unfair laws and regulations that have been made, or in regards to anything that is missing during this time," Dutta and Tapper write. They offer tips on properly and politely addressing leaders and tracking down contact information.
"We want people to learn to run these projects on their own and feel like they're making an impact on their communities," Tapper said. "That's why we provided suggestions. But we also want them to have the freedom to take initiative and choose where they want to put their efforts."
"Our goal was always to connect with people from as many different cultures as we could," Dutta said.
Tapper and Dutta have a daily routine: Get up. E-learn until 3:30. Work on COVID-TV. With some "Gossip Girl" watching (Tapper), constellation reading (Dutta), mug cake eating (Tapper) and painting (Dutta) thrown in for good measure.
"I remember the first time someone I didn't know reached out asking to be on the website," Tapper said. "And then a couple days later someone else reached out and said how our blog helped comfort them. That's the most encouraging part.
"There are days when I feel so overwhelmed and feel like I'm never going to get out of this situation and go back to a normal life again," she continued. "And there's other times when ambassadors reach out and tell me what they've already done in such a short time and that makes me hopeful that people will work together all over the world toward a solution."
Dutta has family members in India who are struggling during that nation's lockdown, in place now for a month.
"They have barely any resources at home," she said. "It's really hard for me and my family."
And on they press, she and Tapper, not sure what the next week or month or school year will bring, but certain they can have a hand in improving it.
What a beautiful view.
Reposted from the Chicago Tribune.