When the Covid-19 pandemic tightened its grip on the African nation of Kenya earlier this year, 26-year-old Ochieng Bernard Otieno watched helplessly as the “virus started spreading like fire in a bush during summer”. As the number of cases continued to soar, Otieno — a student of public health — knew there was no end in sight until a cure was found.
Otieno refused to sit on the sidelines as the deadly disease continued to wreak havoc and claim lives in his country. When he learned that the University of Oxford was developing a Covid-19 vaccine, he immediately snapped into action. He reached out to the prestigious university on Facebook and volunteered to participate in the clinical trials for their untested vaccine.
“As a first-year student in Public Health, acting as a lab specimen would serve better than a spectator. I was ready to take the risk knowing the danger that is in testing an unknown vaccine. If I die, I would die a hero which is better than watching people in great agony impotently,” Otieno wrote in an impassioned blog post, shortlisted by the education and career consultancy ReachIvy as part of its Lockdown Diaries competition.
Like Otieno, many students from across the world submitted their accounts of how the novel coronavirus drastically changed their lives this year. As world leaders began to fight an uphill battle against the invisible virus, these young people were suddenly confined to their homes and forced to adapt to ‘the new normal’.
Just when Ashmit Gadekar was beginning to get used to his new routine amidst a nationwide lockdown, his parents delivered some grim news — an elderly gentleman who lived close to his house, who he fondly called chacha, had tested positive for Covid-19. Chacha lived merely three lanes down from the 15-year-old’s home in the scenic town of Quatre Bornes in Mauritius.
“We did feel sympathetic, and at the same time, we were terribly shaken. Our phones started ringing extensively as people enquired about our well-being,” Gadekar recalled in his ‘diary entry’. “Time went by and we were informed that Chacha had passed away. Tears were shed in our house, realising the helplessness of not attending the funeral.”
For Himangi Varshney, a college student from Aligarh, this period of self isolation offered a rare opportunity to reflect and introspect. Glancing through the well-thumbed pages of her first-ever journal, Himangi realised how much she had changed over the years.
“I used to be a lively human. Tensions used to feel like a waste of this precious limited time that we have. But with time, I became a part of a rat race, where all I knew is to compete. If someone was doing one thing, I would do two. It seemed like keeping myself busy made me proud of myself, as I felt I was utilising my time,” she wrote.
During the lockdown, Himangi realised she was hurtling down a path of self-destruction. “This lockdown felt like someone frantically pulled the chain of the train, in which I was traveling,” she explained.
Abhinav Ghosh, a 20-year-old engineering student from Hooghly, too, learned a few valuable lessons from the pandemic. Spending an unprecedented time at home taught him the importance of relationships and seeking joy in simple things.
“The lockdown, unlike many others, has been a personal blessing for me. I’ve got time to reflect on myself, break my bad habits, develop good ones, and experiment with so many personal productivity regimes,” Abhinav wrote. “This is the only time I believe in my life this is happening. Still very struck with the quote ‘The more you sweat in peace, the less you bleed in war’.”
Many saw the lockdown as an opportunity to try their hand at a new skill. From learning how to prepare a homemade pizza from scratch to attempting to make it through a particularly gruelling 30-minute workout video on YouTube — social media was flooded with pictures and videos of people picking up new hobbies and making big lifestyle changes.
For Hillary Simpson, however, it was a period of rediscovering old passions. The 22-year-old student from the University of Warwick was re-acquainted with an old friend — her piano, nicknamed Zigi, after her first dog. The lockdown, to her, was a “journey of melodic bliss”.
“I always loved spending time playing the piano but this time, it was a different feeling. I have slowed down to find beauty in the sound that each note emits,” Hillary’s blog post read. “I hope Zigi would agree with me that this lockdown period has encouraged me to leave my comfort zone.”
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