You can change the world, again – how the youngest generation are responding to the challenges of COVID

Author Margaret Rooke (Politics, 1982) specialises in writing books to inspire children and teenagers. Previously we have interviewed Margaret about her last book You can Change the World! in which she spoke to fifty teenagers who helped transform their own lives and the world around them. In this article, she’s caught up with some of them to see how this year of Covid and lockdowns has affected them. 

We all know that this has been a difficult year for young people. Many are worrying about Covid-19 for themselves and others; there’s deep concern about job prospects; university life has been disrupted. They’ve faced exam chaos and enforced hibernation.

This is the cohort who’ve done so much to draw attention to the changes they believe are needed in the way we live. Many ‘marched for their lives’ against gun violence in the USA and skipped school to fight climate change across the world. They’ve found ways to tackle bullying at school and been vocal about the importance of LGBTQ+ and Black Lives Matter.

So, with all that 2020 has thrown at them, have they decided to take a break from looking out for others and protecting the planet or are they still finding ways to work towards the greater good? 

A couple of years ago I interviewed teenagers from different countries for my book You can Change the World!, to inspire others of their generation. I’ve recently contacted some of them again to see how they’re responding to the crisis we’ve faced this year. 

It’s good news. In Florida, USA, 16-year-old Taylor Richardson, is an activist who usually campaigns for equality in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) subjects, no matter the colour or gender of students. She’s currently switched to raising funds for emergency childcare for essential workers, helping to keep communities and hospitals running. “It’s personal for me because my dad is a doctor on the frontlines, working to save lives,” she explains.

Also in the US, 19-year-old Trisha from Illinois, who developed the hugely influential ReThink movement against cyberbullying in schools, shifted her campaign to confronting the hate people are now experiencing online in their own homes. “Online bullying is applicable to any situation. COVID-19 has contributed to xenophobia and racism, especially against Asian-Americans here in the US. It’s so important that we address that.”

Meanwhile in Devon, 22-year-old Parry’s programme to talk to schoolchildren about keeping beaches clear of litter from tourists has found an urgent new focus. “I found empty water bottles, food wrappers, disposable gloves and masks in the hedgerows. The local population were using these paths as a means of escaping the house. It breaks my heart that we’ve been campaigning for years to get social attitudes to change at the beach and the same issue is on the rise in other areas of our amazing coastline.”

Find ‘You can Change the World’ at Waterstones

Environmental activist Tolmeia, who’s 19, from Gloucestershire, is learning from the Government’s response to Covid. “We’re seeing drastic action taken by the Government and this proves they could be doing more for the climate crisis. I’d say our current situation has made me realise how many people are willing to step up and help; how strong our communities are.”

And in Virginia, USA, 19-year-old environmental champion Natalia explains, “Many people are living in unfortunate circumstances, whether that be because of food insecurity, homelessness, abusive relationships or a myriad of other issues. They are still facing these issues every day. A pandemic doesn’t mean we can stop helping them.”

These young people and others have lost none of their determination to make the changes they want to see around them.

Professionals have also noticed the positivity within this generation. “It’s clear that young people across the country are eager and able to make change happen today – they just need the support in doing so,” says Aidan Daly, from the Royal Society of the Arts and an organiser of this year’s RSA Pupil Design Awards. “They’ve been adapting to remote learning and worrying about the implications of missed hours of teaching, while facing the anxieties of a global pandemic. Despite this, we saw thoughtful and optimistic ideas from a diversity of schools, rooted in a desire to make a positive difference to their communities and the natural environment.”

This year’s impressive batch of winners included a plan to re-use chewing gum to create sterile surgical gloves for health professionals. 

And this week a global talent search, Rise, has been announced: a search for new young leaders in a move inspired by Greta Thunberg and others, backed by leading philanthropists Wendy and Eric Schmidt

They hope to engage leaders of tomorrow, by providing education and opportunities for 15-17 year olds to identify problems, solutions, and ways to work together. The organisers have been impressed by statistics that show civic engagement among young people is high and are on the hunt for those who don’t usually get a ‘seat at the table’. From everything I’ve heard and seen, this is the generation to take seriously indeed.

Margaret Rooke’s books include Dyslexia is my Superpower (Most of the Time) and Creative, Successful, Dyslexic. 23 High Achievers Share Their Stories. Her latest book You can Change the World! Everyday Teen Heroes Making a Difference Everywhere is a gold award winner in the US Moonbeam Children’s Book Awards for multi-cultural non-fiction.

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