Sahana Bail ’20 and Areeb Afridi ’20 both felt adrift after Harvard’s campus was evacuated in March due to the pandemic, leaving each to spend their final College semester at home. Bail, back with her family in Norwell, Mass., said she spent a lot of time watching reporters on TV both for information about COVID-19 and for the comfort of feeling less alone in her worries and fears. Afridi, a Dallas native who concentrated in human evolutionary biology, spent his spare time similarly engaged, only in his case reading medical articles about the disease.
One day in May, Bail and Afridi FaceTimed to talk about their lives in quarantine. Both felt that staying updated on COVID-19 helped assuage their fears. During the call, Afridi said he realized that young children probably lacked age-appropriate resources to be able to inform themselves and ease anxieties in the same way. All the same, children were still expected to transition to virtual school, practice social distancing, and face many other challenges.
Bail and Afridi, who became friends during their sophomore year through Ghungroo, a student-produced South Asian cultural show, started to look for online COVID-19 educational material for children to see what was available. They quickly discovered that their suspicions were correct. For all the information available to adults, there was little out there expressly for children. The pair decided to fill that gap by creating the interactive storytelling website Quarantine with Kavya.
“[Because of the news,] I felt less alone; I wasn’t the only one afraid of all the unknowns,” Bail said. “But we both realized that children can’t tune in at the push of a button to whatever news outlet they wanted to listen to that day.”
The website features read-aloud videos for children as young as 6 years old, with illustrations by artist Amy Joseph, a close childhood friend of Bail and recent graduate of the Massachusetts College of Art and Design. The story follows Kavya, a fictional South Asian girl from New York, through her life during the pandemic, and it chronicles her questions, frustrations, and worries.
There are currently three chapters available, each focusing on a different aspect of life in the time of coronavirus. The first explains the science: how the virus works, how it affects people’s bodies, how it spreads, and how to prevent infection. The second addresses the emotional toll on children, including fear, missing their friends, and boredom from staying inside all the time. The final chapter covers the economic impact through a story about Kavya’s brother worrying about what life will look like after he graduates from college.