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Young people and coronavirus: lessons we can learn from 2020, from the voices of the next generation

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From the importance of using your voice to the need for greater support for families facing financial difficulty, four schoolgirls reflect on their experiences during the pandemic – including the lessons we can take forward.

There’s no denying that 2020 has been a tough year for all of us – but for young people, the restrictions of the coronavirus pandemic have hit particularly hard.

From school and youth club closures to restrictions on socialising with friends, the pandemic has stripped many young people of the support systems they need to thrive. 

And that’s not forgetting those young people shouldering the increased stress and anxiety of their parents – especially when it comes to the growing number of families experiencing financial difficulties. 

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With all of this in mind, it has never been more important time to listen to the voices of young people – especially when it comes to their hopes and ideas for the future as we move out of the pandemic. 

And that’s what makes Save The Children’s latest campaign – featuring the work of celebrated photographer Misan Harriman – so important.

Released to mark the launch of the charity’s annual Christmas Jumper Day on 11 December, the series of photographs feature a group of girls from a Save The Children-supported BAME sewing club based on a housing estate in London. 

Sam, 10, was one of the girls involved with the project.
Sam, 10, was one of the girls involved with the project. She says when people view her images she hopes they'll “see someone smiley and happy.”

Pictured in Christmas jumpers they designed and created themselves, the girls used the photoshoot to speak openly about their experiences of 2020, and reflect upon the change they hope to see going forward. 

From dreams of a more diverse future to the importance of listening to others, here are four of the girls on the lessons they hope we can all take from this unexpected year.

  • Serena, 13

    Serena, 13
    “I designed my jumper to fit me and just me only.”

    “This year’s been very negative and lots of things have been going on. And what we really need right now is a positive start to 2021. It will be much better than this year. I am feeling hopeful myself,” Serena explains.

    “Actually, I don’t want to go back to normal. Things have changed. I think it’s going to be incredibly hard to go back to the way we used to all be. I think it’s best if we start a new normal, change the way we were before. We could stop crime, we could get homes for homeless people, we could get food to people who were poor. Like at school we have a food bank.

    “[In the new normal] people could be nicer to each other. We could become friends. And people could stop being mean to other people.”

  • Akirra, 10

    Akirra, 10
    “I think the vibe of my [jumper] is not about being silent, but making your words count and just being free.”

    “I think the difference I can make, it might not be too big but I think that my words can count and that people should really love and care for their children and make sure that they’re loved,” Akirra says.

    “Little voices can be the biggest inspiration, I think. The little voices out there, can be the biggest voices you can hear. So I think everyone’s words should count.”

    Explaining her jumper design, she adds: “The lips are closed because it represents our lips being muted, silent and not talking to anyone [during the pandemic] – just being cooped up in a dark corner, or in a dark place. This is basically saying that you should make your words count and everyone has a voice.”

  • Lulu, 15

    Lulu, 15
    "[With my jumper] I definitely wanted to do something with 2020 as a lot has gone on this year with coronavirus, with the BlackLives Matter movement, and with the wildfires in Australia."

    “When I think of 2020, I kind of just think of it as a mess and a lot going on, but I also think it’s a time we’ve learnt from what we could have done and our past mistakes and what we could do better in the future,” Lulu explains.

    “I think some families aren’t getting as much support as they need. Almost £20 million is being spent on Big Ben but it can’t be spent on some families and children who need it. Children are the way of the future so if they aren’t given the proper resources and they aren’t given food and nourishment then how do we expect them to grow and lead and help create a sustainable planet and a sustainable environment?”

    She continues: “I think it’s really important that young people have someone to look up to. If they constantly see negative images in the media they start to look at themselves that way or they start to demean themselves and I think if they have more positive imagery, society would look at Black people and look at everyone better.”

  • Sewa, 13

    Sewa, 13
    "I added more cultural designs and something on the jumper to show [my Nigerian heritage]...How they dress, the type of materials they use and the patterns they put on their clothing."

    “So many things have happened this year – good and bad – but mostly bad. So many things have happened, it’s been chaotic, but hopefully we’ll move on from that to even better,” Sewa says.

    “None of my family has caught Covid-19, but in the community, some of their relatives have caught it, which may have affected them and their mental health – so we should look out for other people [around us].”

    She continues: “[I want] people to be treated the same, not to be treated differently and not to see someone as Black or white, just to see someone the same as everyone else.”

Misan Harriman photographed a BAME girls’ sewing group ahead of Christmas Jumper Day, taking place on Friday 11 December. To sign up, visit the Save The Children website.

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Images: Misan Harriman