Indian-American youths are facing down their fears of COVID-19 by engaging in a range of activities, from jobs delivering pizzas to developing chess games, learning Indian cooking to learning the piano, and, even being inspired to follow the footsteps of front line healthcare workers.
News India Times spoke to children and youth ranging in age from 7 to 22. Families are generally stable though some have lost jobs or have to work online but that stress has not significantly disturbed the kids in family. Though it is only three weeks in quarantine and homeschooling for most of those interviewed, the youth appeared to have balanced their schedules after an initial blip, and taken up new hobbies, and developed an appreciation for family time.
The difference in age of those interviewed did not reveal much of a divide between the younger and older children. While News India Times did not interview the parents because it wanted to give an independent voice to the youth, it was obvious that parents kept a steady hand and close watch on their offspring, coming up with activities and encouragement, apart from learning to teach school.
“It’s a crazy time to live in,” says 17 year old Nimai Shukla who is about to graduate high school but with no ceremony or prom as planned for June 2, and 3. “I thought I might see a World War because it’s gotten pretty close, but not a pandemic,” he adds. He admits to being “a little bit scared,” for his family and is glad his father, a surgeon, does mostly telemedicine with patients and only goes into hospital to do surgeries.
In the same breath, when asked how he passes his time, Nimai says he’s taken up a job with his elder brother, delivering pizzas.
Contrast that to the youngest in the group. “I can’t see my friends,” declares 7 year old Neel Chaudhuri of North Carolina sounding a bit frustrated. He thinks for a few second then blurts, “But I can spend more time with my dog Tyler,” a 14-year old black lab.
For Neel, it’s possible that having t load the dishwater is what reminds him that his world has changed radically from just a few weeks ago.
All the students News India Times interviewed from the age of 7 to 22, were following their school curriculum online, using Zoom, Blackboard Collaborate, etc. and also using Khan Academy course support, the site launched years ago by Salman Khan, and endorsed strongly by Microsoft founder Bill Gates.
Several hours of classes a day, plus the flexibility of studying at different times day or night, to listen to teachers who have put their lectures and teaching in YouTube videos, or other teaching apps.
Apart from Facetiming and Instagramming, some are using Zoblox or PS4s, and Wii to enjoy games played with friends online or with siblings at home.
When asked how school is going, Maahi Patel of Atlanta takes her time to think, before responding, “It’s not hard. It’s just … different.”
Zoom helps to see classmates and teachers during virtual classes. Maahi sounds purposeful about her future at this young age. She has been taking healthcare classes and says she aspires to become a nurse. The pandemic does not put her off, “Not really, because now I see how many people they are helping.”
The family plays board games, and she’s learning new skills – playing the keyboard, photography. And cooking! Last Saturday, she and friends online made Calzones and muffins.
Snapchat and Facetime make up somewhat for not meeting close friends for Maahi.
With her older brother around, she admits they fight more right now, “Because we spend a lot of time together,” she jokes stretching the word ‘lot’.
At the same time,, “It is scary to see how many people are getting infected. You just have to social distance and hope for the best. Yes, I worry for family. My mom works for the hospital,” but right now works from home, she says with relief in her voice.
Her school goes from 11 am to 1 pm, and she can finish her assignments any time during the day, Maahi says, but concedes it is harder to learn sometimes without face to face interaction. “You can’t learn as much online as with a teacher.”
Leeya Chaudhuri, 13, is thrilled she will be moving up from 7th Grade in a few weeks. She seems to enjoy homeschooling, mainly because she doesn’t have to get up at 6 am to get ready, and its fun to watch Dad, North Carolina State Senator Jay Chaudhuri, learn the math she has to learn and using khanacademy.org to get through the lessons during homeschooling.
However, Leeya is more interested in subjects like U.S. government, a possible reflection of her parents’ engagement in politics. Her mother Sejal Mehta, an attorney and former prosecutor in New York, who also served in political campaigns, apart from being a political activist and supporter of the arts scene in Raleigh.
“For me online studies has been easy,” Leeya says. “Teachers are doing a good job.” But she is honest about how things are going even if she has had more time to practice piano and passed level 4 in a recent online test. “It’s boring. I do get bored. Sometimes, I just sit and think … what am I going to do,” Leeya said. And her birthday coming up soon, will also be an online affair, she sound disappointed. “But I don’t have COVID-19, so I guess that’s fine,” she reconciles. She and her younger brother Neel love the hikes they go on with their parents.
Meanwhile, Priya Nadiminti and Ajay Nadiminti (age 7 and 8 respectively) got the idea to start an online chess tournament, scheduled to go live April 19. Since the Nadimintis are treated by Summit Medical Group in Berkeley Heights, N.J., and both parents, Drs. Sheila and Hari Nadimiti are physicians there, the family discussed that funds raised for Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), would be donated to the Summit Medical Group Foundation. Priya and Ajay have been contacting schools around the area to inform them of the opportunity, and children in kindergarten through sixth grade can register to play at $20 per child. (smg-foundation.org/chess-kids-against-covid-19/).
Lockdown, homeschooling apart, Milli Patel of Amador Valley High film School in Pleasanton, California, is thrilled it is her last month in high school. “Only a few classes are at a specific time so we can do the others according to our convenience,” she told News India Times.
She wants to be a graphic designer, and is into painting as well. As the Editor of the school newscast, she has continued to make the footage n needed to be aired in creative ways. The latest segment uploaded on YouTube was about what various kids at school are doing to help during the COVID-19 crisis. A student manufactured 100 shields, part of PPEs worn over the N95 mask, with the 3 D printer, She had him film himself and send her the video and adding her commentary she edited the footage and uploaded it.
“I’ve also been sewing a lot since the quarantine,” Milli says. She takes old clothese and redesigns them into new outfits.
Milli admits she was stressed out when the quarantine and homeschooling began because too many things were coming at her at the same time and it felt overwhelmng. “But now its settled and things are spread out,” she said. She misses going to the BAPS Swaminarayan Temple every Sunday, but now joins the group online at a set time.
When Spring Break got extended by a week, Vandan Patel, 22, and his friends were thrilled. Until things changed and the whole school experience came online and no end was in sight.
“I was very, very bored at home initially. I didn’t know what to do. I wanted to go out and meet my friends,” Vandan said. He even tried calling up friends to hang out somewhere. That didn’t work out. “By the second and third week, I began to understand that I can do other things, new areas of connecting and using my time with family,” he adds.
Lectures on Zoom, and some flexibility from professors regarding deadlines, has made it easier. But exams are going to go as planned. Plus, he notes, there’s software to ensure that your eye movement while sitting in front of the computer is registered so that cheating cannot happen, he says. “If you are looking in any other direction, it is suspect,” Vandan said.
He has a series of exams coming up end of April, and he is making sure to prepare early because he doesn’t like that gut feeling if he leaves things to the last minute. He needs to finish extra courses during the Summer to graduate as a degree in Public Health. After that he expects to get into a Masters program in Health Administration.
“Public Health is really interesting also because of what is happening right now. We studied various epidemics in history during our course work,” he says.
Being quarantined, he says has taught him more self-discipline. And while he has experienced emotional ups and downs, he is better now by keeping a schedule, having family dinners. “And also it opens the door to spiritual activities,” he said. His family comes together at a given time to do aarti when his sister is home from her nursing duties.
The discussions at the dining table are great. “My Dad is a really bvig jokester. My parents, my two older sisters, and I discuss problems we have, stress about exams etc. Because we are at that age where we know the family might soon not be together, it helps to realize that,” in this quarantine.
Shivam Maisuri, also 22 like Vandan, is from Greater Toronto, in Canada, and his life has certainly undergone change. But he takes it in stride. His mother returned from England April 15, only to be quarantined upstairs with no contact with family, as required for all international travelers now.
Shivam does not seem to worry about his father’s temporary lay-off, or that his mother’s job at a bakery was probably going to end after she gets out of quarantine. The government has programs that are helping the unemployed and those who have lost their incomes.
During the month his mother was away, Shivam has learnt the names of all Indian, especially Gujarati spices, the result of many video calls to the U.K. for talking to his Mom. He made a vegetarian dish with tofu, cabbage, and tomatoes. “I used haldi, ajwain, jeera, marchi, and ginger,” he said reeling off names he was not familiar with before COVID-19. And he makes mung and masoor daals, aloo-gobi, rajma, chole, the list goes on.
“I did call Mom, but only twice,” he said proudly. “Once you know the basic (Indian spices) ingredients, you can add or change according to taste,” he boasts. “One hundred percent I feel independent,” he adds, determined to not let things slide once things return to pre-COVID times, nor after his mother’s 14-day quarantine.
The quarantine combined with the one-month absence of his mother, has made both father and son appreciative and more responsible of home work.
“We are going to make sure we continue,” Shivam emphasizes.
As for his fun activities, Shivam has taken up running, and ends his days with talking to friends and exchanging updates on Zoom before going to sleep.
“It’s a relaxing way to end the day…. And we communicate more now than before!” he exclaims in a moment of self-realization.