From her window in Birmingham, 12-year-old Rachael Chun looks out over clouds and other high-rise buildings.
Each one is full of people like her who live in a closed space. In Madrid, Sara Martínez Quevedo, 10 years old, is also trapped in a small flat, her face framed by a map of a world that is currently closed to her.
“Have you felt scared?” Rachael asks, their two faces floating side by side on a zoom call.
“In the beginning I was very scared,” Sara nods. ‘Especially when I got sick. That was very awful. And you?’
“I don’t think I was too scared, I was more on the worried side,” says Rachael. “I think I had better luck because I never really got sick”
Although they are 1,000 miles apart, Sara and Rachael are both part of Generation Covid, children whose world has been radically changed by the coronavirus.
Both have experienced strict lockdown in small spaces, in inner cities at the forefront of the Covid pandemic.
While children seem less prone to the virus, they experience other social side effects. Both have experienced intermittent schooling and struggle with loneliness, sadness and boredom.
“I was also very bored, but I also got very depressed because it was three months that I couldn’t go out,” admits Sara to Rachael.
“The only reason I could go out was when my dad sometimes let me take the trash with him. But most of the time I was stressed because I couldn’t go outside. ‘ She shakes her head.
“Then I got sick in the middle of it, so I had to go to the doctor. They did all the weird tests and looked at me and said I had the coronavirus. It was horrible. I even had to wear my mask and my gloves to go to the doctor. “
The Daily Mirror invited Sara and Rachael to chat via zoom as part of our groundbreaking project Europe Talks.
As Britain nears the end of the Brexit road on December 31, we are partnering with German news outlet Zeit Online and newspapers in 13 other countries to connect people in 15 countries for one-on-one talks .
So far, around 17,000 people have signed up from across Europe, including 2,700 people in the UK, with chats taking place on Sunday, December 13.
“I’m pretty sure Madrid is the capital of Spain,” said Rachael. ‘But I don’t know many facts about Spain. I’ve never been outside the country because I’ve never been on a plane. “
Sara has visited the UK several times, “but I don’t really know much about Birmingham,” she admits.
Sara lives with her mother, Cristina, an English teacher originally from Canada, her father Javier, an engineer, and her little brother Andres, seven years old, in the Sanchinarro district of Madrid, an area popular with families. She is in the last year of primary school.
Rachael is in Year 8 with two younger sisters, Rebecca eight and Jessica six. She lives in Nechells, a part of Birmingham with one of the lowest incomes in the country. Her father Jiayong runs a small Chinese restaurant, while her mother Yung Fang volunteers at a Chinese Sunday school.
Both girls love to read and draw. Rachel loves history too. They both agree that the worst thing about the coronavirus is missing their friends and grandparents.
“During the first lockdown we were initially excited because we weren’t going to school, but as the second and third months passed, we got more bored and wanted to go back to school,” says Rachael.
“Then, even when we went back to school, we had to go back home for two weeks to isolate ourselves because our year 8 bubble was closing.”
Sara says, “Right now I am in school and two of the classes are closed.”
Rachael says she’s lucky because her local community center has a toy library that borrowed books and board games. “Obviously, if you sent it back, they quarantined it for the next person to get it,” she explains.
Sara nods. “We got tons and tons of work from school,” she says. “We had seven hours of video conferencing and it was really weird. Sometimes I called a video with my friends, but sometimes I was endlessly bored. “
In Spain’s second lockdown, it is still mandatory for children to wear a mask to school.
“You must wear a mask if you are six or older,” Sara explains. ‘I’ve worn a face mask for so long it seems wrong not to wear it. At my school you come in, they take your temperature, you put on hand sanitizer and then after every break you put on disinfectant. I put so much hand sanitizer on it that they tell me at school that one day my hands will fall off.
“We have to bring three face masks – one in, two spare, then we have to bring our own hand sanitizer and our own water bottle. We can’t connect at all, we can’t socialize. I’m separated from my best friend, so if we try to communicate, it is really annoying. “
She shrugs. “The boys in my class like to put down their masks and the teachers tell them.”
Rachael looks surprised. “In the UK, I’m pretty sure there is an age of 10 or younger that you don’t really need to wear a mask,” she says.
She explains how her high school operates in bubbles and that students only have to wear masks when traveling between classes. “We have to disinfect before and after classes.”
There is so much the girls don’t say. They both make the most of their situation and try to cheer each other up. They chat about what they know about each other’s country.
“I don’t know any English food,” says Sara. “I know Italian food too, pizza and so on, but it’s very famous.”
“Fish and chips?” suggests Rachael.
“Oh yes, I had fish and chips, they are tasty, really delicious,” says Sara.
“I don’t know any Spanish food,” says Rachael.
“In Spain you would have paella or tortilla, that traditional Spanish food.”
Rachael laughs. “I don’t really eat too much English because my parents are Chinese, so we eat like rice and all,” she says.
Then Sara asks what Rachael thinks of Brexit. “I don’t know that much about Brexit, but I’m pretty sure I know Britain was separate from the European Union, that’s all I really know,” Rachael said.
“I don’t think it really affects us too much, you can’t really tell whether we’re in it or not. I don’t really focus too much on politics. I sometimes watch the news when my parents watch it.”
Sara says, “I think it was England or the UK or whatever that was letting go of the European Union. They voted and that’s all I know. Before this virus, they always talked about ‘Brexit this, Brexit that’.” “
Now both girls agree that everything is dominated by the coronavirus and the hunt for a vaccine. “I think we should put on masks until everyone has the vaccine so that we don’t infect everyone with disease,” says Sara. “There are a lot of labs and groups working on this more than any other vaccine, and hopefully we’ll have it very, very soon.”
Rachael nods. “I’m also hoping for the vaccine because I don’t want to go to school and I’m worried about wearing a mask or disinfecting our hands.”
Sara says, “I just want to go back to normal life without wearing a mask. I want it to end.”
At the end of the conversation, they explain how important it is for them to talk. “You don’t just find a random person from another country to talk to every day,” Rachael said in Birmingham. “I never thought I was going to call and meet someone who is random in the world.”
Sara is smiling in Madrid. ‘That’s what I think, it’s just once in your life. I don’t have a pen pal so when I got the chance to talk to someone I took it. Bye! I hope to see you again and all. ‘
Rachael waves. “Adios!”
How to participate
You can sign up for Europe Talks here or click on the question above on Monday 30 November before 07:00 am.
A series of controversial yes or no questions being discussed across Europe will then help us learn a little more about you. For example: what is more important, our health or the economy? And should masks be mandatory in all public areas?
After you have answered the seven questions and registered, the Europe Talks algorithm will match you with another European who has a different view of these seven questions.
The meeting will take place via video call on Sunday 13 December. You must be free for an interview by 2pm UK time that day.
Since so many participants will have different first languages, the organizers of Europe Talks have suggested that these video calls should be in English if possible.