YOUTH SPEAK | ‘It’s similar to how it was before Covid-19, but we can’t hug our friends in the morning’

16 June 2021 - 15:00 By Ruhi Rugbeer
Grade 12 pupil Ruhi Rugbeer says she wants to be a doctor to ensure that more people have access to quality healthcare - something her grandparents and great-grandparents didn't.
Grade 12 pupil Ruhi Rugbeer says she wants to be a doctor to ensure that more people have access to quality healthcare - something her grandparents and great-grandparents didn't.
Image: Supplied

Editor's note: This essay is part of a June 16 series published on TimesLIVE on Youth Day. The Sunday Times last year published extracts from the book Learning under Lockdown, compiled by professor Jonathan Jansen and Emily O’Ryan to celebrate Youth Day. Fast-forward to 2021: some stories reveal further heartbreak while others have happier endings. The series of essays published today on TimesLIVE looks at where these children are now, a year later.

2021: Grade 12 at Crawford College La Lucia, KwaZulu-Natal

My name is Ruhi Rugbeer and I’m fortunate enough to be back at school this year. It’s a bit similar to how it was before Covid-19 but we can’t hug our friends in the morning. There are also no contact sports allowed, but you can do cross country. I’m more academically inclined.

Last year from March until October I was at my desk at home every day. I did message my friends online, but you forget other people care about you. I’m an extrovert and I like having people around me.

Last year I was worried about not passing. For me not getting at least 90% is failing, so I was really stressed. Teaching yourself comes down to discipline and I was worried my grades would slip.

For the first two weeks of school this year we did stay at home and we were using Microsoft Teams to learn.

Luckily everyone did pull together and things are much better this year. We all have each other’s backs and there is a stronger sense of community, especially now that we know how hard it is to work under lockdown. We’re pushing each other to do our best.

This year has been a dream and all the teachers have been supportive and motivating. There was always a sense of community at our school, but because we’ve been so isolated at home we appreciate it more.

Next year I would love to make it to medical school at the University of Cape Town or Stellenbosch University. The pandemic has exposed disparity in our country. We don’t all have equal access healthcare. I felt the pressures of the lockdown hard at home so I can’t imagine how other people felt, especially living in small homes with many people in the home.

My great-grandparents didn’t have access to quality healthcare. My grandparents didn’t have access to quality healthcare until  10 years ago. That needs to change. I want to be a doctor so I can change it.

Children nowadays are more aware of what happens around them. We realise that the rainbow nation was an ideal which swept apartheid under a rug. My generation is more vocal about our rights and we know what we want.

The pandemic exposed our inadequacy in democracy when 1% got through it comfortably and  a lot of others didn’t.

I’m always looking how I can make the world a better place. I was grateful for the opportunity when Prof Jonathan Jansen asked us to write about our experiences last year . Writing is so therapeutic for me.

2020: Grade 11 pupil at Crawford College La Lucia, KwaZulu-Natal who spoke at the  Learning Under Lockdown TEDx Stellenbosch launch with Thuli Madonsela

Online school was a shock to my system. I was scared, to say the least. “It’s grade 11!”, I would think. “How am I possibly going to do this?”

I’ve learned to roll with the punches  and I can honestly say it’s not that bad. It’s what I imagine home school to be like: no teachers to peer over your shoulder while you’re writing a test, no friends to grin at in the corridors. No corridors.

The mornings, when I used to crack jokes with my friends over a game of Thunee, are gone. Instead I hear the sound of the kettle boiling, the milk being poured and the Kellogg's sliding out of the box. The drive to school has become a walk to the study.

I learn to plot the graph of y = sinx to the sound of samoosas simmering in hot oil. I learn to listen to the recording of my life sciences teacher, telling me about the arrangement of xylem and phloem in the roots of a plant while Raag, the youngest of us, walks in to give me a hug and steal my coloured pens.

I learn how to submit an assignment on Microsoft Teams while I help my mum make lunch: extra cheesy omelettes and tiramisu for dessert. I think that’s my favourite part of online school. I get to eat a gourmet meal for lunch every day. Thanks, Mum!

I discuss Pound and Blake and Whitman on a Zoom call with my English class, but there’s no lighthearted banter like we had in the classroom because everyone has their microphones on mute.

I learn that autocorrect is a pain when you’re trying to type sentences in Afrikaans.

I learn about interpersonal relationships in LO and wonder when I’ll get to interact with actual people (besides my family) again.

Speaking of family, I have learned that loving someone is unconditional. I love my brothers, even when they walk in on me during an online EGD lesson. I love my mother, even when she makes me chop onions when I have a 17-slide PowerPoint on structural isomers waiting for me. I love my dad, even when he asks for a cup of tea and  slice of cake when I’m trying to do my AP maths homework.

I learn to love the way we gather for the president’s announcements. It’s a bit like going to the movies: we congregate in my parents’ room, munch on popcorn, sip our Cokes and watch the ads that play before the main event. Our popcorn is usually finished before President Cyril Ramaphosa says, “Fellow South Africans…”.

I learn to be alone, and to be OK with it. There is something comforting about the silence, a kind of peace you can only get when you’re by yourself.

I learn I can be very productive when I want to be, and when there is no choice but to be.  I learn to never give up, even when the internet is conspiring against you. I learn not to spend too much time thinking about what I have to do and how stressed I am. Instead, I learn to power through.

But most of all, I learn to see everything differently. I learn to appreciate the things I took for granted: the way the sun felt on my face in the morning, the good morning hugs from my friends, the smiles we exchanged in the corridors, even the sound of the interrupting intercom that hurt my ears because of what it meant. We were outside, we were together and we were free.