Rebuilding a better world for COVID’s kids: 7 things we learnt
The coronavirus pandemic is the biggest global upheaval of our age. The lives of today’s children will be deeply marked by the turmoil it has caused. Their futures depend on the choices we make today.
Save the Children’s report, Covid’s Kids: Repaying our debt to the Covid Generation, sets out how the coronavirus crisis threatens the futures of children across the world. Yet it is clear that recovery cannot mean a return to the status quo. The economic, political and social conditions that existed before the pandemic are part of what has given it such destructive force.
To launch the report, we held a critical conversation about how to rebuild a better world for our children. Here are seven things we learnt:*
1) NOW IS THE TIME TO ASK OURSELVES BIG QUESTIONS
Kirsty McNeill, Save the Children’s Director of Policy, Advocacy and Campaigns said: “This report is about a concept — ‘intergenerational justice’. It’s about the debt that we as adults owe to our children, and their children, and their children after them. It asks all of us, what kind of ancestor do we want to be? Really the biggest question of all.”
Also on the panel was Tom Fletcher, Principal of Hertford College, Oxford and former British diplomat, writer and campaigner. Tom said, “There’s a collective responsibility in rebuilding the international system. One thing that I would encourage young activists to think about is, which bits of this would you want to preserve?
“When future generations are studying history there will be a chapter that ends and starts again in 2020. This is one of those real moments of change. We just don’t know what the next chapter is going to say yet.”
2) IT BEARS REPEATING: THIS YEAR HAS BEEN* A LOT *FOR CHILDREN TO DEAL WITH
Eleven year-old fundraiser Joshua summed it up, saying, “Many children have been struggling through lockdown, not being able to go to school, worrying about their relatives, not even being able to hug their grandparents, which is a lot.”
Bidisha Pillai, Save the Children International’s Global Campaigns and Advocacy Director added, “I think if there is one thing that has been universal when it comes to children and this pandemic, it has been the point around mental health and stress. This absence of access to learning, the absence of routine, the absence of being able to go out and meet friends has really removed their sense of normalcy. And what’s happening within homes, in terms of job losses and income insecurity, I think the stress that parents are experiencing is being passed onto children.”
3) ENVIRONMENTAL GAINS ARE POSSIBLE, BUT FRAGILE
13 year-old climate activist Ridhima Pandey was inspired to act after her home in India was hit by a devastating flash flood when she was just five years old. Ridhima said that while people have been struggling for many reasons during lockdown, she has seen some benefits to the environment. “The air pollution of Delhi and Mumbai really came down, and the water of the Ganga river got cleaner – it was just blue. But now as lockdown has opened up, when people are getting back to their daily lives, things are again getting like they were earlier, and it’s even like it’s getting worse.” Meanwhile the climate crisis risks being pushed down the agenda by COVID-19. “There hasn’t been the coverage there should have been,” she added.
4) INTERGENERATIONAL JUSTICE IS ABOUT EMPATHY — AND THAT’S NOT ALWAYS EASY
Ridhima said: “I would like adults to think about the childhood they had and the childhood that kids are having right now. I and kids out there, we are not the ones who own the factories or the companies that are making a lot of greenhouse gasses or those who are contributing to climate change a lot. So I really want them to think about the coming generation. They are not the ones who will be there with us while things get much worse, so that we could even struggle to breathe or survive on this planet.”
Kirsty added: “We’re asking adults to think about grandchildren they’ve never met. And sometimes not even their grandchildren, but people in places they’ll never go, who are not yet born. And perhaps the easiest way to get people to empathise with the people of the future, is for all of us to think about our own childhood. Just remember what it was like, and what was good and bad about it, and what you would like to pass onto kids today. I don’t think adults get asked to think about that very much.”
5) TECHNOLOGY CAN BE OUR ALLY — BUT THERE IS WORK TO DO
Bidisha said, “While some of us are able to rely on technology to continue have some semblance of normalcy, and continue work and education, I think we know that in many parts of the world the digital divide is actually pushing people back further.
“Where we’re able to use technology to our advantage to reduce those inequalities further is something that we need to be thinking much harder about. I believe technology will help us amplify and accelerate a lot of the progress we can make. But I think it needs to come with that regulatory space, with looking at technology as a global public good.”
Tom added: “The best thing I think we can do is arm ourselves and the next generation with critical thinking about how to approach technology and the content they get online with the curiosity which means you’ll go out and use the best of it and filter out the worst of it.”
6) THERE IS HOPE. WE CAN REBUILD A BETTER WORLD
Bidisha said, “When you’re able to work with young people to help them develop their own agency to question traditional norms, their agency to question the inertia and indifference of adults, the ability to question power structures and challenge that and demand change, that’s where we see it’s worked.”
Ridhma added, “I am optimistic, I feel like nothing is impossible if we try our best and it’s just a matter of really changing ourselves. We are fighting for our future but I or the activists alone can’t do anything. Government can’t do anything alone and people can’t do anything alone. It has to be the work of everyone.”
7) THIS IS JUST THE START OF THE CONVERSATION
Kirsty finished by issuing a call: “Please download the report and treat this as the start of the conversation and the debate. Please share it widely in your networks. But crucially, please take the time to sit with it and think about how you’re going to apply the analysis in the report in your own organisation and in your own life.”