We humans

Scenes from a pandemic: Firsthand stories of life in 23 countries, from the TED Fellows

Apr 10, 2020

The current coronavirus pandemic is a truly global one; in fact, Antarctica is the only continent with no cases (although that could change). Most nations have responded with similar measures — stay-at-home advisories, shutdown of non-essential businesses, social distancing — but the scope of these changes has varied and so has the human impact.

To get a panoramic perspective, TED turned to the TED Fellows. This international group of innovators, researchers, artists and thinkers numbers nearly 500 people in 99 countries. The responses were collected from March 30 through April 7, 2020.

You can read through the entire post, or use these country links to jump around. The post contains responses from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Belgium, Brazil, Cambodia, Canada, Ecuador, Egypt, Ethiopia, Germany, Ghana, India, Kenya, Morocco, Pakistan, Russia, Singapore, South Africa, Sweden, Thailand, Uganda, Ukraine, United States.


Where are you living?


How would you sum up the situation in your country?

Calamitous. The coronavirus pandemic could have not hit the politically unstable and war-ravaged Afghanistan at a worse time.

How has the pandemic changed your community?

Most expats have been either evacuated or left the country before all the international flights stopped. So my community has literally vanished and the already limited social scene has turned into a non-existing one.

How has it changed your daily life?

The biggest change has been the sudden loss and void of having friends, colleagues and a social circle. Professionally, as a freelancer, I already spend a lot of time working from home, that hasn’t changed; however, the logistics of covering the conflict and the pandemic at the same time has just gotten more complicated and taxing. On top of that, the world has become consumed by their own problems, so Afghanistan — despite being at such a historical and crucial period — has lost its place in media and is on its way of being forgotten.

Kiana Hayeri
TED Talk: How the Afghan youth are staging a quiet rebellion


Where are you living?

The Banani neighborhood of Dhaka

How has the pandemic changed your community?

My neighborhood is unusually empty and silent. Dhaka is the densest city on earth with 18 million inhabitants in a 300-square-kilometer area, so it is extremely rare to find it silent for this long. However, the shutdown has put more people in danger of hunger than danger from the virus itself.

All the communities that live off the street — the rickshaw drivers, street food vendors, hawkers and daily laborers — are in trouble. And we’ve seen a massive number of people coming back to Dhaka from other parts, walking for miles in the scorching sun, without food or water, just to find out their garment factories have extended the closure and there’s no certainty of when they’ll get paid next. Then, just as they’ve arrived in large numbers, they’re now stuck, stranded and hungry, since the city is under stricter lockdown. Who will feed them?

How has it changed your daily life?

I’ve been working from home for almost three weeks now. My department is largely cloud-based, so I did not have many hiccups. Instead of walking to work, now I’m walking from my bedroom to the living room to work. I am lucky to be living next to a park, full of sunlight, trees and birds.

I am completely alone, as two of my housemates are stuck in different places. Oddly, I am walking more at home every day than I did on regular weekdays! I am walking around the house whenever I’m on the phone or reading. I logged 11,000 steps one day — without going out at all. I am also happy to be able to read more than usual.

What strategies or routines are helping you stay grounded?

I am trying to maintain the same routine I had before. I wake up, water the plants, eat breakfast, change my clothes, and sit down to work in a separate room — almost at the same time I’d start working in the office. But I am trying to add diversity to the times when I am not working. I’m walking or running around the house, watching Netflix or reading, but I am trying to do different things every day. I am also calling my friends more often and organizing group video calls.

What message would you like to share with the world at this time?

Only the top 5 percent are comfortably in confinement at home; the rest of the world is counting the days until the next full meals for their children. As we’re planning for economic support and bailouts for the post-pandemic economy now, we need to focus on the other 95 percent instead.

Mohammad Tauheed
See some of his photographs in “Dhaka in pictures


Where are you living?


How has the pandemic changed your community?

We’re under lockdown, so everyone stays inside as much as possible. Public transport is still running, but most buses are entirely empty. We’re still allowed to do outdoors sports activities but only solo and while keeping distance from others. Honestly, I’ve never seen so many people out for running along my regular route.

I wish people would wear masks here, though. I’ve made my own mask to go grocery shopping, but I’m usually just one of a few; even cashiers don’t wear them. With the international collective that I co-founded (SEADS), we set up an online tool to bring together different DIY approaches to COVID-19 equipment.

How has it changed your daily life?

I live by myself and partially work from home, so being at home is not much of a change. Moreover, I’ve lived in isolation many times. But I miss hanging out with my friends over Belgian beers.

What strategies or routines are helping you stay grounded?

Staying busy. I always have a ton of creative/research projects in my mind. Also, this is a good time to continue writing my PhD, and I’ve taken it upon myself to use my background as a biologist to communicate about the pandemic on social media and counter fake news. Oh, and I play computer games that I’ve wanted to play for a long time.

What message would you like to share with the world at this time?

The next few months are going to be hard, but a year from now, we’ll be on top of this virus. The world might look quite different then, but let’s grasp the opportunity to change it for the better.

Angelo Vermeulen
TED Talk: How to go to space, without having to go to space


Where are you living?

São Paulo

How would you sum up the situation in your country?

Chaos. International media is calling Jair Bolsonaro, Brazil’s president, the leader of the COVID denial movement. He is openly accusing China of a conspiracy, and he is going against all guidelines suggested by the WHO and other countries and pressuring for the end of social isolation and quarantine.

Right before the outbreak reached Brazil, he travelled with a group, and 20 people from it tested positive for COVID-19. Although he claims he tested negative, he refuses to share results. Instead of observing a 14-day quarantine, he went out on the streets, shaking people’s hands, saying that COVID-19 is nothing more than a simple little flu, that quarantine is for cowards, and it is part of life if some people die. The Minister of Health said last week that our health system will collapse in late April.

How has the pandemic changed your community?

Some people are very worried, taking the situation seriously and trying their best to self-quarantine and help others. Friends are offering to get groceries for the elderly; others are raising money for informal workers with no regular income. Most of my close friends are continuing to pay their employees while they stay home and quarantine.

In the last few days, I heard a sentence which provides a good picture of what is going on here: “Most people fear starvation more than they fear death.” Brazil is a very unequal society, with a great majority living in challenging conditions. Many informal workers and other workers are continuing to work for fear of losing their jobs or of not having money to provide food for their families.

Add to this mix several wealthy business owners, who are demanding the end of quarantine and want their workers — people from socially vulnerable classes, who’d have to use public transportation to get to factories, plants, call centers, etc. — back to work. The lack of respect and care for the lives of many is staggering, and it’s showing Brazil’s ugliest side.

How has it changed your daily life?

My husband is a federal employee in a division which can’t stop operations, so he is working even though there have been several cases of COVID-19 on his floor amongst his colleagues. Yet he has to keep showing up. Therefore, I made a choice early on during the outbreak to isolate myself and my daughter with my 76-year-old widowed mother.

Personally, it has been challenging to be apart from my life companion. My six-year-old is an only child and demands a lot of attention, so it’s also been challenging professionally since I look after her all day. I’ve been pulling all-nighters to keep up my productivity, which is becoming more and more difficult.

What strategies or routines are helping you stay grounded?

I haven’t — ha ha, I am panicking! No, that’s a joke, but it’s very hard. I am trying to provide my mother and child with the best days I can. I make sure they sit outside in the sun in the yard as much as they can. I told my mother to enjoy herself, drink wine and eat the things she craves, because we need to survive and feeling joy is an important part of it.

I’m keeping in touch with friends and family through social media, my kid’s school sends videos and tasks, and she video-calls her friends regularly. I am also trying to work as much as I can and raise awareness about the intrinsic relationship of the pandemic with wildlife trafficking and wildlife exploitation, my professional niche.

What message would you like to share with the world at this time?

For years, experts have been warning the world about the risk of zoonosis related to wildlife trade and exploitation (legal and illegal). HIV, Ebola, SARS and MERS outbreaks all resulted from the exploitation of wildlife, and the new coronavirus, which causes COVID-19, apparently first infected a human at a wildlife market in China.

Other outbreaks are going to continue to hit us if societies around the globe continue to trade wildlife, consume bush meat, or use animals as traditional medicine. The good news is, we can prevent this from happening again.The bad news is, it does not matter the size of the industry, its economic importance, or how attached we are to our habits. Now is the time to leave our comfort zones and change our habits; the price of failing is too high. Human well-being depends on healthy ecosystems and protected wildlife in their natural habitats.

Juliana Machado Ferreira
TED Talk: The fight to end rare animal trafficking in Brazil


Where are you living?

Phnom Penh

How would you sum up the situation in your country?

Cautious forward march

How has the pandemic changed your community?

The streets of Phnom Penh — which can be a chaotic river of cars and motorbikes — have turned into small-town streets. One or two cars pass by and occasional pedestrians, all wearing masks.

There was a big conversation on social media recently as a group of Muslim Cham minorities had gone to Malaysia on pilgrimage and contracted the virus. Its spread in Cambodia amongst Cambodians has been associated with them. There were complaints of discrimination from the Muslim Cham minority who were turned away at markets and shops. These were countered with accusations of religious obsession by others, asking how they could risk the safety of their families, communities and nation for religion.

It’s a heartbreaking situation, but I am thankful that the dialogue has not been violent or radical. There were many who said that, just like the Buddhist majority, our Muslim brothers and sisters have the right to honor their faith. However, they balanced this with a need to respect the circumstances of our world today. Thankfully, there have been no instances of threats or physical altercations associated with this.

Although people are stocking up, there have been no hysteric instances of bulk buying. Modern grocery stores remain open, which often have hand sanitizer and masks on hand for shoppers. I worry for those who cannot afford to stay at home — the street vendors and day laborers. I cannot begin to fathom the ways in which this situation has interrupted any stability they may have had or hoped for.

How has it changed your daily life?

As a dancer, choreographer and teacher, physical touch and connection are very important in my work. Teaching is sculpture in motion, and I write the history, love and knowledge of my teachers and ancestors into the physical form of my students. We’ve had to cancel classes in order to ensure that everyone stays safe, as some of them have elders in their homes. The dancers in my group are on paid leave right now. I’ve seen them post pictures of how much they miss performing or traveling with the company or coming to class, and a few have made excuses to come by and get something they “forgot” at my home studio.

Many contracts and engagements have been canceled. I was looking forward to a one-month residency in Hong Kong, but that’s been postponed. Teaching, choreography and collaborative projects in France, Taiwan and the US are up in the air now. It feels unsettling to lose income, especially as there are young dancers depending on me to pay for rent, school, food and small business ventures. But even more, the chance to share my work and students with the world, the chance to form new friendships and relationships, the chance to encounter new ideas and possibilities — the loss of these things is also a tragedy.

What strategies or routines are helping you stay grounded?

As an artist, I was mostly solitary before the pandemic. I’ve used this time to dig deeper into my projects and practice, into literary projects such as a transcription of a seventeenth-century Khmer love poem and an English translation of the oldest extant written version of the Reamker, the Khmer Ramayana which was composed in the sixteenth century.

I’ve also been researching, fundraising and visualizing for A Deepest Blue, a collaboration with gagaku musicians and Japanese Buddhist monks, which uses an imperial origin myth shared by Cambodia and Japan to explore humanity’s fraught relationship to our waters and oceans.

I’ve also been posting short dance clips onto my Facebook, which range from Khmer classical dance to imaginary club dancing to samba; some have given my friends a good laugh. Connection, in any way shape or form, is what’s important in this moment.

Perhaps the biggest change has been my emphasis on cooking. The pandemic has pushed me to slow down and hone my culinary skills in a sort of ritual meditation. It’s taught me to be thankful to my parents and to all the moms and dads, grandmothers and grandfathers, brothers and sisters, cooks and housekeepers who take on this duty. It’s a demanding skill that requires so much love, time, knowledge, and energy.

What message would you like to share with the world at this time?

Look at our sky — it is blue again. Our ozone is healing. Our waters are running clean. It is unfortunate that people are sick and that others are dying and that there are countless others thrown into uncertain, precarious situations during this time. I hope we can go beyond self-quarantine to living with true kindness, compassion and gratitude and caring for and protecting vulnerable people such as elders and refugees.

I hope we can use this time to reflect upon our individual selves, communities and societies. What did we do right? What did we do wrong? Where do we need to go from here? How do we get there? And I hope that that “there” is a time and place in better balance and harmony with peace, progress, nature and the cosmos. Let’s use this moment as a time to cocoon, and reveal bigger, bolder and more beautiful versions of ourselves when it passes.

Prumsodun OK
TED Talk: The magic of Khmer classical dance


Where are you living?


How would you sum up the situation in your country?

We are balanced on a knife edge — wondering if we have done enough to stem the tide, or if we will plunge into chaos.

How has the pandemic changed your community?

We are in a shadow world. Tiptoeing around each other. After three weeks of social distancing and lockdown, we are becoming weirdly used to it. I’m horrified that I am automatically recoiling from anyone who comes near me when I go for a walk.

How has it changed your daily life?

I am used to working from home, but I’m not at all used to being compelled to work from home. My research work has fallen off a cliff, but I am OK with that. In my weekly meetings with my research team or with students, I now focus on providing a safe space for everyone to express what they are feeling and to support each other.

We are also devising ways we can contribute or volunteer to help with the current situation. As President of the Canadian Association of Physicists, I’m focused on addressing the needs of this community and supporting activities to address this crisis. Personally, my husband and I normally work in different cities during the week, so this is the first time we are together in the same place all week — that’s our silver lining 🙂 On the other hand, I worry about my parents, brother and in-laws who are in other countries.

What strategies or routines are helping you stay grounded?

Every evening, I find silly jokes on the internet to share with my husband; we hold on to each other’s laughter. We keep in touch regularly with our families on WhatsApp. We go grocery shopping (very cautiously) once a week. We watch concerts online on the weekends. We take turns cooking.

We have designated our different rooms as different work branches — the bedroom is the Adelaide Branch, the dining room is The St. Lawrence Branch — and we switch branches every day when we work. It lulls us into forgetting the tight condo space we are in. And there’s always Netflix, especially Star Trek Voyager because of its unrelenting optimism and determination to find a way “home.” It has new meaning now.

What message would you like to share with the world at this time?

In quantum physics, two entangled particles can remain connected when separated across space and time, even across the universe. So let us be quantum. Let us be connected, no matter how far we are separated and no matter how much time passes.

Shohini Ghose
TED Talk: A beginner’s guide to quantum computing


Where are you living?

I’m in Toronto, far away from my family who live in South Africa.

How has the pandemic changed your community?

I live alone, so it has made my physical community very small (i.e., just me!). However, my community of friends at the gym and from work have rallied around and have online classes and meetings.

How has it changed your daily life?

In some ways, my professional life hasn’t changed at all. I work in international collaborations and was already in two to three online meetings daily for the past five years. The thing that has been affected is my teaching of courses, as I’m navigating ways to give a final assessment to a class of 1,500 students.

Also, I find I am in roughly six hours of Zoom meetings daily, which doesn’t leave as much time for thinking about science. I’ve got to make sure to carve out time for myself wherever possible. I don’t have children, so I have real sympathy for colleagues juggling parenting on top of everything else. Living alone means I’ve not had human contact in a while, which is quite lonely. I’m a social person, so online meetings help but I’d love a big hug! I’ve applied to foster some animals during this time — I normally travel too often to have an animal — so hopefully this will also help.

What strategies or routines are helping you stay grounded?

I make sure to do my makeup and dress up every day. It helps me feel more like I’m at work, and I’ve been enjoying adding some sparkle to my day. I’m also trying to do little bits for people online, helping organize resources for COVID-19 researchers, applying to tutor classes once my own academic term is over, etc.

What message would you like to share with the world at this time?

I want to share how important it is for me to find things to be joyful about. Yes, everything is scary and we should definitely not be in denial, but I’ve found the small acts of joy and happiness important in the long haul. If we are going to be physically separated for a while, I need to keep my spirits high. It’s OK to laugh at that meme, or silly video.

Renee Hlozek
TED-Ed Lesson: The death of the universe


Where are you living?


How has the pandemic changed your community?

We were aware of COVID-19 in China, but we never thought it would reach us. In early March, we had the first case in an Ecuador citizen who was living in Spain but who traveled here to visit her family. From one week to the next, the country went into a state of national emergency with an enforced curfew from 2PM to 5AM and a halt in all commercial activities not related to the financial system, food production and provision, and healthcare.

All businesses had to close, and we had to adjust to working from home. This is doable for a portion of our population, but for the majority — who rely on informal work — staying at home and following social distancing is not possible. This happened most visibly in Guayaquil, where over 60 percent of its population is part of the informal workforce and 30 percent live in informal settlements, in overcrowded conditions with no sewage or water service.

These people cannot stay at home as they need to make ends meet daily; they also can’t stay in their overcrowded, unlivable spaces for a prolonged period of time. Thus, they still move around, spreading the virus, increasing the COVID cases, and leading to the collapse of the health system.

Guayaquil has seen a high mortality rate — over 14 percent — which the city has not been able to manage. In Quito, which has a lower rate of informal workers, the spread of COVID is slower, but people need to be constantly reminded of the importance of practicing social distancing, wearing protective gear, and keeping good cleaning habits.

How has it changed your daily life?

My husband and I own a design hotel. Ecuador closed its borders in March, and our property had to be closed. We are having to rethink the future of our business and the changes we must embrace to remain open and relevant.

This crisis is going to be a huge blow on the tourism industry worldwide, and we have to find a way to adjust and evolve. We are now thinking about ways in which our property will become attractive for local tourists as we will see more people taking vacations in locations they can reach by car to avoid airports or airplanes. We have to evolve from large footprint tourism to locally based, mindful tourism.

I also have an architecture and design office. There, I can continue to work from home designing or doing environmental evaluations for projects to be built and completed once the lockdown is revised and we resume normal activities. What has changed in architecture and design — particularly in environmental design — is now we must respond to the challenge on how to provide healthy spaces for people to live and work that can respond to the threat of viruses such as these.

We will have to think about how architecture can contribute to better living conditions and better indoor environments. We’ll modify how we see spaces and their functions — for example, replanning spaces for families’ live/work conditions under lockdown. This will be a challenge for everyone in the design and construction industries, from material development to furnishings and systems. I believe this will bring a shift in how architecture is designed and expected to perform.

On a personal level, I have three kids (ages 21, 15 and 13). My oldest is attending college in the US. When Ecuador decided to close its borders on March 14, her college was still deciding what to do. So when it closed its campus, she could no longer return home. We had to find friends who could accommodate her in the US, while we wait for Ecuador to open its borders.

My two younger kids are lucky enough to attend a private school with online teaching, so they’re attending classes online from 7AM to 2PM every day. What is frustrating is the uncertainty of how long it will take to have our daughter home safe with us or when our lives will return to whatever “normal” is. In the meantime, we go day by day.

What strategies or routines are helping you stay grounded?

We’re continuing our activities the same as always — we wake up in the morning, do chores around the house, attend classes, give classes, attend online meetings,and work our regular hours. We’ve put a lot of emphasis on eating healthy, so we are spending more time in the kitchen, looking for new recipes and ingredients that are better for us.

To remain sane and reduce stress and anxiety, we are exercising regularly every day, doing laps around the house, getting on a stationary bike, or doing a workout session. This allows for me and my husband to let off steam and have a personal time. I even have the kids working out as they’d do at school, so they don’t lose muscle and they maintain their endurance. I have found that we are more productive since we do not commute to work and we used to waste going from meeting to meeting, so we can get more done now. With more time on our hands, we’ve found ourselves reconnecting with lost or old friends or even relatives we hadn’t been in touch with, making sure they’re OK, that no one feels alone and everyone has someone to talk to.

What message would you like to share with the world at this time?

I would like to think this crisis was a way for the planet to put us in our place and make us stop all the noise and continuous demands so it can heal and be restored. COVID has made it clear that we all live on the same planet, share the same air and the same resources and that this can affect you.

Regardless of where you live, whether you are rich or poor, the color of your skin, your religion, your beliefs or your sexual orientation, it’s had the power to make us all equal, and this is a very important lesson. COVID will have the largest impact on poor communities, and this is the time when we show that we are human and we need to care for each other. The planet has given us a wake-up call.

Veronica Reed


Where are you living?


How would you sum up the situation in your country?


How has the pandemic changed your community?

In Cairo, schools, clubs, universities, public institutions, restaurants and the private sector have all shut down. We have a curfew from 7PM till 6AM. Only hospitals, pharmacies and grocery stores are open. People who can afford to buy face masks and gloves don’t leave their houses without them. Anyone with symptoms or who can afford to quarantine is isolating themselves away from family and loved ones.

Most shops have long queues with no safe distancing or disinfectant available. Due to the curfew, the metro at 5PM is packed with people trying to go home. Still, some people are holding weddings and parties in secret. Some of us are also worried about our political prisoners.

Several small businesses I know have laid off their employees, and now some big factories are either giving half salaries or laying off half their workforce. My news feed is starting to fill up with news of people dying. Unlike the times of the revolution, news of people passing away is coming to me not only from Cairo but from all over the world. We are losing architects, intellectuals and doctors; we are losing loved ones, family members and friends. My worry is no longer limited to my geography; I’m worried about my global family. We are reaching out to each other, wondering if this is a goodbye.

My friend is asthmatic. She wrote to me, saying that she has updated her will and if something happens to her, she would like me to guide her children. We are in our early 40s, and I thought I had a few years left before I had to reflect on these matters, but I guess we are against something that knows no borders or age limits. I am preparing myself and my family that any of us might leave any minute.

How has it changed your daily life?

I teach at The American University in Cairo, and we have moved to online teaching. Thanks to technology, I am able to continue conducting my classes uninterrupted. It is not the same as being in a classroom but it has helped me develop more creative ways to connect with them. We start every class by asking how is everyone doing. Some students cannot cope, and kindness and words of encouragement are essential.

Our role as teachers is to educate but also to ensure their emotional well-being and understand that this is difficult for everyone. My main job now is to keep my students motivated and looking forward to life. We might all witness the loss of a loved one before the end of the year, or we might leave ourselves. Remembering our humanity is essential.

What strategies or routines are helping you stay grounded?

Every morning at 8AM, I conduct a remote yoga class for my 77-year-old mother who lives in Beirut. I video call her, and we start our day together, breathing gently and doing simple exercises. I am calling my friends around the world, checking on those who are not well once a week and some on a daily basis. I am spending more time in my garden, planting seeds and clearing beds for spring. I had forgotten how beautiful roses smell, so now I try to smell my roses every day.

I am reading a lot, and I am sorting my files and finishing postponed projects. I go on walks and listen to music. I have always been an introvert, so being alone is not uncomfortable; I am just worried about my family and friends. I am grateful that I have a roof over my head, and I can afford social distancing. Writing daily gratitude notes also helps.

What message would you like to share with the world at this time?

Be kind. Don’t be harsh to yourself or others. We are all in this together. If you can help others, please do. It could simply mean calling a sick friend or cheering someone up. Little acts of kindness can change the world.

We have been given a chance to reconsider our relationship with each other and with other creatures. It is a time to be still and to look ourselves in the mirror. To me, there are two certainties — that we are born and that we will die. Now is the time for you to tell the ones you love that you love them.

Bahia Shehab
TED Talk: A thousand times no


Where are you living?

I live in Barcelona, Spain but currently I am staying temporarily in Addis Ababa.

How would you sum up the situation in your country?

In Spain, what I hear from my family and friends is: “overwhelm.”

In Ethiopia, what I am experiencing is: “precaution.”

How has the pandemic changed your community?

My community in Spain is all communicating online, and it feels very strange not to gather with friends for such a long time. It has changed our everyday life to depend much more on technology, since we cannot have presence anymore.

How has it changed your daily life?

Well, my daily life in Ethiopia these days has gone through a process of social distancing but not total lockdown. People take a lot of precautions, and it is affecting me professionally and personally.

What message would you like to share with the world at this time?

Please stay safe and keep dreaming about a better tomorrow where we can be more respectful of the environment. I believe nature is giving us a message with this situation, and we should listen to it carefully and change our behaviour in the future.

Xavier Vilalta
TED Talk: Architecture at home in the community


Where are you living?


How would you sum up the situation in your country?


How has the pandemic changed your community?

The whole thing is so damn terrifying. But Berlin’s Senate just rolled out an aid package of €100 millions specifically for artists, freelancers and small businesses in the cultural sector.

A bunch of my friends received €5,000 over the past weekend, and that makes me feel a bit hopeful. It’s not often that you see any governments reaching out to a community of artists. I think everything’s permanently changed, but I’m not sure what exactly yet. I’m mostly worried about the economic consequences of this, though.

How has it changed your daily life?

My home set-up is entirely new. We have a two-year-old child with no daycare, so it’s almost impossible to work. But we’re spending so much time together as a family, which is quite nice. It’s actually nice not to have anything on the calendar for the next few months. You sort of live day by day. I’m really into the sign language interpreters you see on TV these days.

What strategies or routines are helping you stay grounded?

I’m reading less news, reaching out to acquaintances I’ve always wanted to get to know better, and slowly putting numbers together for my tax filing. I think I’ve run out of energy to be anxious, so I’m trying to keep up with my motivation for everyday tasks.

What message would you like to share with the world at this time?

Ignore those “how to be productive during a crisis” articles. It’s totally OK to be unmotivated and sad.

Christine Sun Kim
TED Talk: The enchanting music of sign language


Where are you living?


How would you sum up the situation in your country in a word or phrase?


How has the pandemic changed your community?

We miss seeing and being around each other — suddenly, being away from each other is a strength and not a weakness. We are finding home schooling challenging; our appreciation for teachers and the education system is at an all-time high. We are grateful for little everyday things in life that we often take for granted.

How has it changed your daily life?

I’ve slowed down in my usual professional tasks but picked up pace in others. As President of the International Union of Immunological Societies (IUIS), I have been working with Frontiers to launch a series of scientific webinars and expert commentaries on COVID-19.

What strategies or routines are helping you stay grounded?

I set small daily goals: If I manage to get one thing done well during the day, I am satisfied. I reach out to different members of my team to go over their projects, and this human-to-human interaction is mutually beneficial. I do a bit of schoolwork with my children. My focus is on improving the handwriting of the 10-year-old and persuading the 6-year-old to consider that this is a skill she will need; the 4–year-old ensures that we don’t work too hard.

What message would you like to share with the world at this time?

We will get over this crisis! Stay at home now to expedite our return to normal. Count your blessings. Stay connected to other human beings. Be patient with scientists. This is a complex and dynamic situation, and no one has perfect solutions. Our solutions are usually guided by data and this is challenging to collect in emergency situations. Nevertheless, progress is being made and we are learning every day.

Faith Osier
TED Talk: The key to a better malaria vaccine


Where are you living?


How would you sum up the situation in your country?

Pensive. National soul-searching. (The official disease count is now at 287 but everyone knows that this underestimates the true case due to testing backlogs in the two national reference laboratories where the testing is being done. The government insists on receiving all results first before release.)

How has the pandemic changed your community?

The government has imposed lockdowns on the four cities and surrounding semi-urban enclaves that constitute nearly 90 percent of formal, non-agricultural economic activity. However, the large informal economy and the spatial looseness of poverty refuses to fully submit.

This has painted an eerie picture of seeming aimlessness. In poor neighborhoods, people wander around in a kind of dream state, occasionally provoking security forces who have the impossible task of enforcing the many exemptions to the lockdown.

How has it changed your daily life?

I am one of those sorry souls who live their lives tethered to electronic screens. The strange sameness of that routine is heavily punctuated by an immobility I’ve never experienced before.

I run a micro-multinational operating across a dozen countries (and growing). In some years, I’ve spent 260 days+ on the road. Now the borders are shut, and the planes grounded. The effect is one of physical and cognitive claustrophobia.

The frequent bursts of color in airports and the sense of freedom engendered by the constant shifts in scenery had clouded my awareness of how artificial my life has been these past many years. Now I have to confront it for what it is, without the welcome distractions of departure-lounge madness and immigration-booth inquisitions. I am thinking harder about “routine” and how it modulates habits and shapes personal values about what is important and what is not.

Because I am involved in various efforts in designing technology responses to the pandemic, I have been heavily impressed with the newfound focus on “essentiality.” Stripping down and stripping away have become an overriding dogma, rewiring how I think about every work output.

What strategies or routines are helping you stay grounded?

I have tried to maintain my standard workload and check more on friends than usual. But a week into lockdown, I realized that I cannot simulate the bustling distractions of bygone ages by re-watching 1980s action movies or reliving childhood teasing sessions with childhood friends. So I have been spending time going over some of the techniques of managing life that I have come to take for granted because they seemed to work fine in the past — calendar habits, social media habits, writer’s block amelioration methods, feedback styles at work, etc.

I have convinced myself that this is a retreat to improve my take on life management. The mock seriousness of going over hundreds of previous emails trying to “track my process” takes on a sheen of Foucauldian archaeology and helps me while away hours of downtime without feeling useless, restless and guilty of having it too easy.

What message would you like to share with the world at this time?

Everyone keeps saying how “after the pandemic” nothing “will ever be the same again”, and that has me seriously worried. After World War I, people thought the world had changed forever. It had, but not in many essentials. The interwar period saw the fastest rearmament the world had ever seen, and the conflict that followed was the worst in human history. What followed that conflict? The nuclear arms race.

If the world is going to change in some fundamental way, it is going to require bold new ideas of change that truly open a new dimension of our humanity. Just hoping the pandemic will resolve old debates around the left-right dichotomies in most parts of the world is naive.

World War II didn’t resolve murderous racism and nationalism, for instance. So far, there haven’t been many big ideas that transcend or synthesize old schisms and faultlines. My big idea is that powerful technologies that can help with things like digital contact tracing should never be built and run like normal national security technologies, built by commercial entities, and placed in the exclusive control of governments. Instead, they should be developed as social utilities that are managed by multi-stakeholder bodies.

Bright Simons
TED Talk: To help solve global problems, look to developing countries


Where are you living?


How would you sum up the situation in your country?

Sitting on a tinderbox!

How has the pandemic changed your community?

As a journalist: the mandatory requirement of physical distancing means our network of reporters can’t go out and do their job as freely as they’d like to. They are alleging that the administration is prohibiting them from reporting stories critical of its efforts in controlling the pandemic.

The working principles of our profession are already taking a hit, even as the reporters in the field are doing their job with great personal risk, exposing themselves (and thus their near and dear ones) to the contagion that has forced the world into a lockdown. The disease is taking a toll on journalists on a personal as well professional level.

As an entrepreneur: our country has gone into a near-total lockdown, with economic activity coming to a standstill and the experts are forecasting a recession that will be worse than the 2008 financial crisis. Ours is a B2B venture and the industry forecast is gloomy.

We were in the midst of expanding our team to scale up our operations, but the pandemic-induced lockdown has thrown a spanner into that. We have had to defer one hire; another person we had recently hired has no projects to do as our clients have backed out. We are expecting a dip on the business front and are forced to come up with contingency plans.

How has it changed your daily life?

As the founder of an early-stage media startup, my personal life largely revolves around my profession. We are working from home due to the lockdown, so that leaves me with more time to spend with my family, more time to cook with them and catch up with old friends on the phone. Some of my full-time employees live close by and we meet often at my place for lunch or dinner. This allows room for more informal conversations, more ideas. While there’s no commuting to work, there’s underlying concern about staying afloat as a company in the face of the impending dip in business.

What strategies or routines are helping you stay grounded?

Catching up on things that help me relax, such as cooking. The primary strategy has been to do the best I can to minimise the lockdown-induced impact to our company. Apart from that, it helps to catch up with movies and TV I’ve been wanting to watch.

What message would you like to share with the world at this time?

Number one, please take the pandemic seriously and practice physical distancing to help put an end to this threat. The more seriously we take it, the sooner we can help end this.

Secondly, this crisis has presented us with a great opportunity to reflect. After just one week of nationwide lockdown in India, reports are emerging that even the most polluted of cities are witnessing clear, blue skies and a good level of air quality. Rivers have become clean as industries are not dumping toxins in them anymore. We are just one species, but have been having a catastrophic impact on this planet — our home. Now that we have gone into our cocoon, the Earth is healing.

This is a great time to rethink whether the human race wants to continue on the path it has been following, at the cost of nature. Coronavirus has shown that one cannot expect to cross swords with nature and win, even if you’re among the world’s economic superpowers. If we don’t live in harmony with nature, we are inviting bigger crises. Extreme weather events have already become a phenomenon. Let this pandemic serve as an opportunity to rethink how we want to proceed.

As one columnist wrote, just like we identify periods in the human era as Before Christ and After Christ, the current condition of the world requires such radical changes that it would call for another classification: Before Corona and After Corona.

Gangadhar Patil
TED Talk: How we’re helping local reporters turn important stories into national news


Where are you living?


How would you sum up the situation in your country?

Grim. Corona in times of religious, racial, caste and gender-based injustice.

How has the pandemic changed your immediate community?

I have been socially distant for four weeks now. There is a growing realization within my own networks and across the country that social distancing is a privilege.

Especially in India, where the urban poor live in slums and do not have the luxury of space. Individuals and organizations are setting up food distribution networks to support vulnerable communities. This includes migrant workers and daily wage earners, but also muslims and people from north east India.

People from this region have been the target of racism and there are incidents where they have been called a ‘Chinese virus’ and denied entry into stores and other spaces of need. The current political climate, including the passing of the Citizenship Amendment Act, which discriminates against Muslims, combined with pandemic makes Indian Muslims even more vulnerable. There is more misinformation than information floating around.

The prime minister is designing forms of public action that are shareable on social media. On March 22, Indians across the country clanked steel utensils. On April 5, we were asked to switch off the lights at home and light a candle for nine minutes in solidarity. Both spectacles for social media, both acts that the privileged can afford to do.

It is hard to find information being disseminated on strategies, testing kits, isolation wards, ventilators, medical supplies, mental health support, domestic violence support and help for farmers, daily wage earners and vulnerable communities.

How has it changed your daily life?

I am trying to take each day as it comes and tune in to how I feel. I feel more productive on some days and not productive at all on other days. I am trying to find a new routine and rhythm in a way that is self-compassionate. I am trying to find the balance between keeping up with what’s happening outside in my city, the country, the world and within me.

I am hearing from and reaching out to friends and family more than before. The conversations are longer than before and meaningful. I am experiencing and reciprocating generosity and care; be it with friends, neighbors, and strangers too.

Professionally at Blank Noise, we are brainstorming ways to restructure the year and months ahead. While on one side, we have archives to sort and back end work to address, we are also examining ways in which we can serve and further the community of citizens that take agency in ending sexual and gender-based violence. We are working on the identity of the “Action Hero/Shero/Theyro” in times of COVID-19.

What strategies or routines are helping you stay grounded?

I live alone and am allowing for this to be an experiment in taking care of myself. I am trying to build a vision for the week, and keep a routine. I give myself permission to be gentle, not ambitious with what I do with my time. I check in with how I feel every day.

I also find breathing exercises helpful. I take walks within the house, or within the building. Domestic chores and physical movement with music and some solo dancing is even better! All of the above is something I am still iterating and building daily.

I speak with my grandmother every day. She has also been my collaborator. We are able to build a conversation around our work and our plans. That gives me strength and focus. I also speak with my 2-year-old nephew and 4-year-old niece every day. It helps that they want me to create stories with daily updates, like a soap. I also try to build small actions around sharing, like buying extra provisions to give away. Small acts of sharing keep me going.

What message would you like to share with the world at this time?

Take care of yourself and of each other. Expand your networks of care. Expand the idea of care. Devise new ways of reaching out. Care for those like you and unlike you, near you and far away from you. Care to build a system of equity, where all have access to care.

Do as little as you possibly can. Do all that you can. Do it with consciousness, knowing that every person regardless of race, religion, socio-economic divide, gender has the right to live safe, healthy and cared for; by society and the state. This is social justice. This is humanity. This is labor. Commit to labor.

Jasmeen Patheja
TED Talk: Everyone deserves to be safe


Where are you living?

New Delhi

How would you sum up the situation in your country?

A pandemic came to India via flights and is now walking on foot to the rural interiors.

How has the pandemic changed your community?

The pandemic has unfortunately exposed deep class, caste and religious bias in the privileged community that I belong to in India. It has also exposed the negative influence of the far-right ethnoreligious politics professed by India’s ruling party, the Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP).

WHO declared COVID-19 as a global pandemic on March 11 but it wasn’t until as late as March 19 that the Indian Prime Minister gave his first statement to the nation. When he announced a lockdown on March 24, it created a great panic among India’s 471 million migrant labor force, 80 percent of which is in the unorganized sector. This means they do not have any job guarantee, savings, housing or medical benefits; they live on a day to day hand-to-mouth basis and if they cannot go to work for a day, they can’t put food on the table.

The morning after the lockdown was announced, they had no clue where their next meal would come from. The PM had also not given any clarity on who would pay for their treatment in case they get the virus.

So out of confusion and desperation, millions of migrant daily wage laborers started walking hundreds and thousands of miles towards their homes back in the villages. This was the kind of shocking exodus India hasn’t seen since the partition. As many as 24 migrant laborers died trying to get home.

But if you see the popular narrative on social media regarding the situation, they blame the poor for breaking lockdown. The privileged class has no empathy for these deaths which they call “collateral damage.”

It is not a coincidence that most of these workers belong to India’s so-called lower castes who have been traditionally treated as impure and therefore untouchables. These disturbing scenes simply broke my heart and made me realize what kind of unequal society we live in. How much mending this society needs.

Personally, I feel extremely depressed to see how my nation is responding to the greatest human tragedy since World War II. Being a left-of-center liberal, I have been already lamenting the global rise of far-right nationalist regimes which thrive on xenophobia, demagoguery and the othering of the weak and vulnerable.

I honestly thought this crisis would set the nation’s priorities straight. It seems to me now that we are beyond repair.

How has it changed your daily life?

I have been a freelancer working from home for couple of years, so there isn’t a drastic change in my schedule or lifestyle. But my volunteering work and anti-Citizenship Amendment Act protests have been impacted.

On social media, I see people taking to arts and crafts, cooking, spirituality and so on. I am unfortunately not in such a relaxed place. I am constantly reminded of my privileges and almost feel guilty as I see the plight of the poor classes.

At the same time, I am reminded that our time is limited and there may not be a tomorrow, so I am trying to catch up with my bucket list, my book writing, my PhD thesis, etc. I think I am being more productive during the lockdown than I’ve been on working days. One could say the priorities are suddenly very clear.

What strategies or routines are helping you stay grounded or sane?

I am not sure how to answer that; to be honest, I am not going insane because I have neither a 9-5 day job nor a 24×7 romantic partner to commit to or pay attention to.

I think it is a privilege to make a big hue and cry about the lockdown and to imagine that we’d go insane just because we can’t do what we like to do or are used to doing for 20-30 days. There are many people who live a life full of restraints where they cannot do what they wish. A life full of broken dreams, unfulfilled ambitions.

I think it is time to be thankful for what we have. That’s the message I want to give. We must remind ourselves how privileged we are and ask ourselves what we can do for those who are not so privileged once this is over.

I see the lockdown as a great opportunity to completely re-set our lives. It will probably make consumerism, capitalism, industrialization and the line between the public and private sphere all crumble and perhaps then we can go back to basics.

What message would you like to share with the world at this time?

This pandemic is a re-set button. It has shown us that we live in terribly broken unequal societies. We need to fix them. We need to make more hospitals rather than walls and statues.

Sanjukta Basu
TEDx Talks: Have we survived the rape and violence?; Why, for all my love for my country, I would never say Baharat Mata Ki Jai


Where are you living?


How would you sum up the situation in your country?

Surreal. We are in the middle of a national lockdown in India. Each day we hear new and conflicting reports about our country’s preparedness or unpreparedness for the pandemic and don’t know what narrative to believe, what is real news and what is fake.

What we do know is that testing is really low, and the number of people with COVID-19 as well as the number of deaths has been rising steadily. It is also a particularly difficult time for our country’s citizens who are migrant workers, thousands of whom are caught between their workplaces and hometowns in the middle of the lockdown, and also for so many of our country’s queer citizens and particularly trans citizens.

How has the pandemic changed your daily life?

It has fundamentally changed my professional and personal lives. Video calls with my team are the norm. We have changed our entire annual plan for the Culture Lab, which I run, and pivoted to an online-only strategy.

This period is when two of my books were supposed to be out: Queeristan, which is a new book about LGBTQ inclusion in corporate India, and the updated edition of my previous book Gay Bombay. I was supposed to be in the midst of promoting them, but these have been shifted to later.

Personally, because my partner and I have been at home for the past few weeks now, it has been interesting. We haven’t spent this amount of time together before and we are discovering new dimensions to each other! I have discovered that he is really good at making perfectly round chapatis and he has discovered that I’m rather good at doing the dishes. Also, we are catching up with friends over video calls in a way that we perhaps didn’t used to, because of the hectic pace of our lives before.

What strategies or routines are helping you stay grounded?

We’ve made a routine that we try and follow, and one of the highlights of our day is our evening coffee together by our flat’s window, with Oreo cookies that we both love, watching the sun set and the birds settle into the trees opposite. It’s a blessing to be able to do this, and we are both acutely aware of this, and are grateful for the fact that we are together at this time and able to work from home, in relative safety, while there are so many others around us who don’t have this privilege.

What message would you like to share with the world at this time?

What has been so moving is to see how many people and organizations all around have sprung into action and are trying their best to help others in need. Whether it is in delivering food or hand-wash to those who don’t have access, or sharing their resources digitally, this moment is a time for all of us to realize just how connected we are to each other, and to rise to become our very best and most helpful selves.

Parmesh Shahani
TED Talk: Making the knowledge journey limitless


Where are you living?


How would you sum up the situation in your country?

Tense suspense.

How has the pandemic changed your community?

So Kenya isn’t on a full lockdown; it’s more like stay at home, minimize movements, and follow a 7PM to 5AM daily curfew. For the most part, people are listening to the advice around hand washing, physical distancing and mass gatherings, but the immediate loss of revenue for a lot of individuals and businesses coupled with a lack of a bail-out program and an under-supported public heathcare system has a lot of people nervous and on edge. I feel the anxiety is palpable.

How has the pandemic changed your daily life?

For one, it seems my summer touring season is likely off the table. That means a loss of direct revenue and going back to the drawing board with our plans for our album release. Our festivals — Blankets & Wine as well as Africa Nouveau — have also had to be postponed to hopefully the fourth quarter of 2020 so we’ve taken out a loan to keep our employees employed. The flip side is I seem to be talking to my friends and loved ones way more than before, and our family WhatsApp group is finally popping.

What strategies or routines are helping you stay grounded?

I’ve more or less maintained my usual life routines, and I recognize how privileged I am to be able to say that. My boyfriend and I have maintained our morning routine of meditation, working out and having breakfast together. We have maintained our end-of-day routine as well, and we go to sleep at the same time as we did before. Being intentional about the day, and getting physically prepped and dressed for it has really helped.

My colleagues and I are maintaining the same meeting times, and we are furiously working on scheduling streamed performances from DJs and artists on our platforms from their homes so that’s been good. We have continued planning the festival for when life gets back to normal (although it will never be the same again). Maintaining my rehearsals and work balance and throwing in some gems of family and friend time has carried me through so far.

What message would you like to share with the world at this time?

It’s impossible to see what the future really will be, so I think the best thing is to focus on what’s possible to do now. On a humane level, be extra aware, be extra kind, and give of your resources.

On the work front, if you’re a creative of whatever kind, keep creating. Find the way to keep creating and sharing as this will save your sanity. Don’t drop the ball. If you have a project that was due for the end of, say, the second quarter, stay on track. I think it’s extremely important to say: Stay ready! There will be a lot of innovation on the platforms and consumer behavior will also shift, so stay ready and keep your eyes open for opportunities.

— Muthoni Drummer Queen
TED Talk: Creativity builds nations


Where are you living?


How has the pandemic changed your community?

Tomorrow will be day 21 of severe shelter in place orders, punishable by one-to-three-month prison sentences if you’re found outside doing anything other than procuring groceries, medical care or pharmacy, or essential work. Otherwise, you must have an official paper permission slip; curfew starts at 6PM every day. I’ve left only once to go grocery shopping.

I’m homeschooling — I am a single mom of an 8 year old — three hours a day using Whatsapp chat groups and daily feedback from teachers. My nanny has moved in with us. Two weeks ago, the US Government gave us 24 hours to get out on a few charter flights and let us know that if we didn’t leave then, we’d need to consider ourselves indefinitely in Morocco.

The streets are deserted, and there are police everywhere. When people are spotted outside, they are maintaining two meters of physical distance from each other.

How has it changed your daily life?

Pre-pandemic, I had just finished a stretch of TEDMED consulting work. I was going to finish a novel and plot a way forward to pursue an audacious, 10-year, longitudinal living study of refugee integration in disenfranchised rural areas through a new model of intentional living. My life was relaxed, spacious and dreamy.

Now I’m all COVID-19, all the time. I’ve been reading four to five hours of the latest studies and news and composing relevant digests every few days, and doing telemedicine consults, volunteer COVID-19-related content strategy for TED and TEDMED, pro-bono consulting for a ventilator-hacking company, media interviews around COVID-19. I’m soon to join a UN organization as a consultant to help with the COVID-19 response on the ground in Morocco.

What strategies or routines are helping you stay grounded?

I’ve worked from home for the last 14+ years, so I have some general tips.

1. Try to keep as much of your usual routine as possible. Keep your sleep/wake schedules, and eating, drinking, exercise patterns stable and healthy. The body likes its usual rhythms, and predictability can quell anxiety). This doesn’t mean you have to be boring, though. The human mind also needs variety, creativity, and fun.

2. Make your bed when you get up (sounds so dumb, but it psychologically helps you win the day), and change your clothes even if it’s from night pajamas to day pajamas.

3. I’ve made the decision to limit homeschooling to three hours a day; the rest is for fun and creativity. I will go mad otherwise, as it’s not at all easy to make my kid sit down and do her work longer than that. .

4. Move every day. We do a daily dance party, the New York Times 7-minute workout, Zumba, and watch fun dance videos

5. Try not to overeat. The temptation will be there, being so close to the fridge all the time. Also, try not to eat while you work.

6. Self care is everything during this immense psychological stress, and it’s very good for the immune system. Aim for eight hours of sleep a night, eat lots of fruits and veggies, and do what you need to do to relieve stress.

7. Make a list of things that you’ve always wanted to do and can do from home and try picking up a new hobby/skill or even just watch that documentary film you’ve been meaning to see forever

8. While we keep physically distancing, social connection is more important than ever. My kid does daily video dates with her classmates. I try to check in on friends and family every day. I just did a 50th birthday party for a friend on Zoom. My latest intervention is to schedule calls where we can talk about everything but COVID-19.

9. Figure out how to best deal with your stress and anxiety. For me, it’s reading everything I can on COVID and sharing evidence-based info via Twitter but it also means disconnecting from it — especially an hour before bed — and doing things that are completely unrelated.

10. Make room for spontaneity and whimsy. My daughter and I try to do one zany — for us — thing each day despite our limited resources. Here are some of the things we’ve done: Turned the dining room table into a ping-pong table when not in use for homeschooling; played hair salon (cut our hair and then styled it another day); took rope and cut us jump ropes and now we jump daily for at least 15 minutes; funky cooking (made pancakes out of carrot, zucchini, almonds, lemon, and oats); decorated t-shirts with stickers and sewing; and did a session of laugh yoga (look it up; it’s ridiculous and laughter is contagious).

What message would you like to share with the world at this time?

Our post-COVID-19 world will not be the same. Will we respond to this crisis by exacerbating the glaring problems in our society, or will we create a new world that is kinder, less market-based and more responsive to the collective needs of all, including the most vulnerable?

A public health crisis like a pandemic is a shock to our global system and with such shocks, unimaginably rapid change is possible. I’m going to hope for the best while I fear for the worst and do everything I can to help build a more progressive, just, pandemically-prepared world.

Nassim Assefi
TED-Ed Lesson with Brian A. Levine: How IVF works


Where are you living?

I run a hand-drawn animation studio in the city of Karachi. Our studio is working with someone from the Japanese animation industry to make our first feature film to bring beautiful hand-drawn animation to Pakistan. It’s been an extremely challenging and amazing journey for more than four years. No one ever suspected anything like COVID-19 to come out of nowhere and put everything on hold the way it has.

How would you sum up the situation in your country?

Chaotic. Pakistan is a country with little to no unemployment benefits. The lack of education and the same uneducated people relying on their day to day to run their homes have made social distancing and quarantining a very difficult issue to explain to them. People are trying to follow the rules and abide by the guidelines (which is very rare for Pakistanis — we all march to the beat of our own drum). We are doing our best.

How has the pandemic changed your daily life?

As someone who interacts with his animators and artists on a daily basis my immediate community has been changed very much. I am working in isolation now on my animation and storyboards from home.

What strategies or routines are helping you stay grounded?

A lot of exercise. I am running every day, be it in our backyard or around our small neighborhood. There are very few people out and even when I do see someone, they are wearing a mask and protective gear. Everyone is a little shaken but trying to hold on.

I try to work and keep a regular routine at home (although I am failing miserably at it). I am finding it difficult to accept the situation myself that the world has changed forever … I can’t wrap my mind around that. But it will sink in for everyone slowly, I’m sure.

What message would you like to share with the world at this time?

I saw a post on the internet the other day, talking about how this will one day be history. I am choosing to focus on that. One day, we will look back on this day as something that changed mankind as a species.

We have never collectively experienced something like this before; we will conquer it together and then learn from all our mistakes and hopefully respect and appreciate our diversity and differences more than we have in these last few years.

Usman Riaz
TED Talk: Bloom where you are planted


Where are you living?


How has the pandemic changed your community and your daily life?

Two months ago, I decided that I badly needed self-isolation. Barely anyone in Russia was speaking about coronavirus at that time, but I had absolutely different objectives in my mind.

I had to write a book. I’m a writer. I focus on history, and I’ve written a couple of nonfiction bestsellers that were popular in Russia and translated to dozens of other languages. My publisher wanted to see the manuscript by the beginning of this summer, so I knew I had no other option. I had to isolate myself — stop going to parties and restaurants, stop travelling. I’d started practicing it all before it became fashionable. Sorry, I mean before it became needed in every single part of the world.

As a historian, I could never imagine that we would all witness one of the greatest tragedies of our century and that history would be made right now. In Moscow, until this week, we had an impression that Russia is a couple of weeks behind the rest of the world in terms of coronavirus and quarantine measures.

Last week reminded me of some kind of WWII movie. We knew that the enemy had already invaded New York, London, Paris and most of Europe, but we felt that we were the last safe haven and were still having fun. Last week the restaurants were still open in Moscow (although they were already empty, so they were quite safe for social distancing). But we knew that probably these were the last days. The enemy was coming.

Now it happened. The war is here. And I’ve got a feeling that coronavirus is the biggest shock and the biggest change for our generation. I can compare it to 1991, the year when the Soviet Union collapsed.

For me — I was 10 years old — and millions of other people, the world turned upside down. The previous life ended, and a new era began. But obviously that was a Great Change that affected only part of the world. This Great Change is bigger, as it’s being felt all around the globe. The old world is over, and another era has started.

Russia, like many countries, has closed its borders. Leaving home is now forbidden by law in Moscow and many other parts of Russia. There’s a coincidence: A month ago, President Putin proposed to amend the Constitution that could allow him to stay in power for a lifetime.

In any other situation, that would provoke street protests. But now it’s different — now it’s not even a topic for the discussion. No one is interested in politics, because everyone is discussing coronavirus.

That doesn’t mean that the focus has changed. There’s a suspicion that all of the values we got used to have changed. Before coronavirus, we had an illusion that we are free people in a free world. There are no boundaries, and we can choose any place to live. We can fight for our rights, or we have an option to leave. There are lots of other places in the world where we’re welcome. And in the 21st century, you don’t have to stay forever in the place where you were born; you’re always free to decide.

But those values of freedom seem to be stricken by coronavirus right now. Will the free world exist after the Great Change? Will we be able to choose where to go and where to live? Or can coronavirus bring us some values from the Middle Ages?

A lot of businesses in Russia will go bankrupt within the next month or so. The people here are discussing that maybe there are going to be many more victims from the quarantine than from coronavirus and that there’s no place to run. Now Russia is not an exception. The global economy is going to be undermined, and the global values have to be revised.

One day we’ll get rid of the virus that affects the lungs, so people cannot breathe. But shall we all breathe again, like we thought we could before? Will we feel that we’re free people in the free world? Or do I have to write another chapter of our history?

Mikhail Zygar
TED Talk: What the Russian Revolution would have looked like on social media


Where are you living?

St. Petersburg.

How has the pandemic changed your community?

My community seems to become calmer after April 2 when we were told to stay home for one month more. Before, many would try to create something, get into online chats, lectures, any activity. Now there is one clear directive, and I guess my community just took a break to plan the immediate time ahead.

How has it changed your daily life?

As an artist, I’m used to being isolated from the world and I can spend days and weeks in my studio working on a new piece. But many of my projects — two exhibitions, the premiere of my debut feature film, festivals and several shoots — are now frozen. I was sad about this. It took me a while to slow down the regular rhythm of my life, which was filled with meetings, production planning and actual work.

For now, I’ve decided to work on those projects I had always postponed to “when I have more time”, finally answer some mail I’ve had, and just rest. I had a very intensive two years of nonstop work, and now I can take the time to relax, just analyze it, don’t rush, and don’t try to fit in one day million tasks. I am now gently relishing the flexibility of time.

Personally, I am isolated from my family so I miss them a lot, especially my mother. I don’t see her, even when I bring her food (as is recommended). Now I have to exercise from home and it’s tough and boring, but I am learning new things and new ways to keep my body fit. I am still experiencing troubles with sleep hours, but that’s my next task.

I’ve become even more selective with whom I keep in touch with, and I’ve also started to talk more with my followers, which has been an interesting experience. I know for sure that in the future I will never stop myself when I have the impulse to travel — that’s something I promised myself.

What strategies or routines are helping you stay grounded?

Since I’m used to spending time with myself, I don’t experience problems with loneliness. From my childhood, I learned how to always keep myself busy. So I’m handling this part of the pandemic quite well. My strategy is to make something every day, work with my hands, do physical things, and get physically tired.

I am not yet trying to learn anything new, because I want to be really selective with this part. I want to try too many things, but I know I need to choose one or two to really achieve good results. Plus, I am not bored yet and I’m leaving this perhaps for week four of isolation. By that time, I probably will decide on a new subject and will clean my room and my mind for receiving new information.

What message would you like to share with the world at this time?

Don’t think too dramatically. Imagine you are in a film; you are acting. You need to be your best. Those characters you used to criticize in films about world catastrophes, the ones who took the wrong actions or didn’t listen to recommendations — you need to be the opposite character from those you hated the most.

Give your energy to full relaxation. Don’t try to learn a new profession in one month or read every book. Be selective; take only what you really need and love. If you feel like not doing anything, don’t feel guilty about that.

Uldus Bakhtiozina
TED Talk: Wry photos that turn stereotypes upside down


Where are you living?


How would you sum up the situation?

“Kiasu” is the word that I would use. It’s a Singlish word that loosely means that people are afraid of losing out, whether it’s not getting the latest gadgets, not getting enough groceries, or not doing enough to remediate what’s happening right now.

How has the pandemic changed your community?

I still see a lot of people on the streets, but definitely not as many compared to pre-COVID. Most Singaporeans appear to still go about normally as shops and businesses are not forced into lockdowns yet. Panic shopping comes and goes, depending on the number of COVID cases that’s being reported daily, but we still have ample supplies of food.

On public transportation, I’ve noticed more commuters with face masks on, as well as socially distancing themselves. Actually, I don’t think I have heard anyone coughing and sneezing loudly on the trains now! (Likely for the fear of being stared down and judged by the other commuters.) Schools and childcare centers remain open — thankfully! — but they are starting to implement a once-a-week online learning day to test the infrastructure supporting remote learning.

In a way, life here is still pretty much business as usual, but much more muted and low key. Of the people in Singapore, I worry most for the vulnerable and elderly, as many of them cannot work from home and remain constantly exposed to the virus out there. Ironically, the younger ones who can work from home should be more socially responsible, but there seems to be a level of complacency at the moment that’s leading to the rise in unlinked local transmissions.

How has it changed your daily life?

It’s definitely an unusual time for me. I used to spend 90 percent of my time meeting people face to face for project discussions, field work and public engagements, but now that has reduced drastically; many meetings have moved online or cancelled.

I remember the first week of working from home almost drove me nuts as I had to juggle caring for my young toddler who wants to play all the time, while trying to do online meetings and keeping the house tidy. The house felt crowded and stifling, and it was a frustrating time.

I am thankful that much of my current work is desktop-based, but due to COVID, I am unable to travel for new collaborative research work or expand my research at present. As a new mother, I had to put many of my research plans on the back burner while being pregnant and on maternity leave, and with COVID now, these plans will be delayed further. This may reduce my chances of securing grants and jeopardize my career.

What strategies or routines are helping you stay grounded?

I’ve started to take short walks around my housing estate. We live in HDB flats, which are like high-rise apartments, and I occasionally take my daughter to look around for nature and breathe fresh air. It calms my stressful nerves very much to watch how the birds are interacting and which flowers are blooming.

I’ve also started to read books again, something that I had not done for a long time. It’s a great way to immense myself into the author’s world, as well as learn new things. My current read is The Soul of an Octopus, where the author narrates her interactions with these intelligent marine creatures. Essentially, I am taking time to enjoy other things that I didn’t have much time before to do, and it’s been very helpful in recalibrating my perspective and life goals.

What message would you like to share with the world at this time?

It is easy to lament about the loss of things and time, but let’s turn it around and celebrate the newfound time spent on other things that matter now. Keep safe and keep positive.

Mei Lin Neo
TED Talk: The fascinating secret lives of giant clams


Where are you living?

I live in Johannesburg, and I’m currently in lockdown in the township of Soweto.

How would you sum up the situation in your country?

South Africa is filled with anxiety, the nervousness of something brewing beneath the surface.

How has the pandemic changed your community?

For context, South Africa has put the entire country on lockdown for 21 days to keep viral numbers down. This shutdown includes roadblocks, needing permits to travel (including shopping for “essentials”), a ban on tobacco products and alcoholic beverages, and only essential personnel allowed to work. There are some provisions for the homeless community. However, the lack of work in a country whose population largely lives hand-to-mouth makes for a difficult transition to lockdown.

In Soweto, particularly the part where I am, things are either eerily quiet with an occasional motor convoy of police and soldiers patrolling the streets to shove people into their homes, or it is a combustion of activity with neighbors trying to gather as much information from each other as possible. There is a nervous energy with a litany of complaints about the shortage of essentials, largely food. Painted messages on the sides of houses have cropped up; one that stands out laments “The God who protected Daniel from the lions will protect you.”

At the same time, there is a veggie cart from an informal trader that honks past the houses, with no protective gear or measures in place. People interact without impunity to an extent. Children play in the streets; babies are held on hips of people walking up and down the street filled with nothing but boredom and anxiety.

There is an expectation from the government for people to practice social distancing. How that is enforced in congested places is questionable. Just like the expectation for families to stay indoors for 21 days without a source of income.

The stampedes that occur at local supermarkets and stores are a stark difference to the suburban shopping centers which are practically ghost towns because people stocked up weeks in advance for this lockdown. While there are delivery services for groceries, they don’t come to the township or they’re unaffordable. Laborers who continue to work are being arrested.

The same social issues that plagued this community remain the same — except the gravity of what this virus can do, which is not known to a majority. Electric shutdowns last four hours at a time, and the internet connection is nonexistent. Lack of entertainment is making anyone and everyone have a restless energy about them. It is with great pain and prayer that I wish COVID does not pass by here; I fear what the survival rate would look like.

How has it changed your daily life?

I was taking a respite from university and freelance work to focus on mental health and traditional healing training at an institute. I graduated and was meant to leave for home and resume work and studies. With the lockdown in effect, I have to stay here longer.

Access to professional work has opened up again, but the lack of consistent internet access has rendered my work useless. I cannot move and create workshops or fly between places for performances. It has definitely paused my income and ability to make it. I am still abiding by the institute’s rules which are sometimes rigid and have made the lockdown more difficult for me.

What strategies or routines are helping you stay grounded?

The routine I have adopted is the one I’d been following for six months. It involves waking up at 3AM to beat drums, sing and sometimes dance. There is a limited amount of space — I share a place to sleep with 7 other people. In the yard, there are 15 people in lockdown together. Sometimes we find activities to do together, besides the required work we have to do. We play 30 Seconds and cards. We watch the sunrise and set together. We talk. We cry. We laugh. As a collective.

Personally, I’ve found great comfort in putting in headphones, listening to music and writing. Sometimes I watch people interact within the space and create film moments with it. I live in an interesting community and the footage I take helps keep me sane.

There are online challenges we collectively participate in. I make use of my global community by sharing art — whether mine or other’s — via social media. I also make use of cannabis products (thank South Africa for making it legal for private consumption).

I use film, TV and music to create discourse that I will use later when I can hold workshops again. I sit and teach myself new film techniques and skills including color grading or cinematography.

My partner has made this precarious time bearable as well; she teaches me how to show up even when I forget what that looks like sometimes. In small moments of distress or frustration, I am learning to take an inventory of what it means to be compassionate for self and others.

What message would you like to share with the world at this time?

If you cannot choose to show up for others, show up for yourself and stay home. I want people to look at life from a place of kindness, to realize a moment of pleasure may mean a funeral for someone else. In our own frustrations and lamentations, we should remember those who do not have the luxury of wondering if COVID or hunger will get them first.

Lee Mokobe
TED Talk: A powerful poem about what it feels like to be transgender


Where are you living?

In Jönköping county

How would you sum up the situation in your country?

Panic is exactly what many within Sweden’s community are starting to feel.

How has the pandemic changed your community?

The global pandemic has closed down Europe’s economies and confined millions of people across the continent to their homes. But here, schools, gyms and fully stocked shops remain open, as do the borders.

How has it changed your daily life?

As an independent journalist and filmmaker, I work with my fellow journalists from Syria in Syrian Investigative Journalism Unit (SIRAJ), which produces investigative stories and reports related to Syrian crisis and conflict. I am the managing editor.

At the beginning of this year, most of our activities in SIRAJ stopped, so my journalistic work completely stopped and so did the work for my colleagues who are freelance journalists and highly skilled. The new situation has made us stop being independent press because of the difficulties of movement, quarantine and the interruption of funding.

What message would you like to share with the world at this time?

Journalists around the world are investigating many angles of the coronavirus pandemic. This is a time when publishing solid news coverage and helpful explanatory material plays a major role in educating the public. But it is also time for inquiring about the response to the crisis, for continuing to ask questions and for uncovering the truth.

Ali Al Ibrahim


Where are you living?

In my hometown of Bangkok.

How has the pandemic changed your community?

I am a landscape architect, and I also teach at a university. As the university has shut down, teaching 30 students online has been challenging. Especially teaching craftsmanship in design class, we need human participation. I feel we all need new communication skills in transferring to this platform.

How has it changed your daily life?

Work is now from home. I’ve found it doable than I expected, but I’ve ended up working more hours than I expected as well. I’ve discovered a new work-life balance. Before the pandemic, I was hardly home. After the world has shut down, I’ve found that being home and staying in are things I haven’t done for so long.

The economy and business are slow now. For designers, creativity — creativity in transferring your skills to go outside comfort zone and creativity in doing more with limited resources — is most needed in this period of survival for us and our organizations.

What message would you like to share with the world at this time?

I believe every pandemic has its purpose and a key message as a natural sign to warn us about our human behavior. COVID-19 is here to directly urge us that our behavior — including our overconsumption, making species endangered or extinct, and destroying forests and natural systems with urban development — is not right. Our politicians need to listen more to scientists. All lives matter.

There are so many inequities that are becoming more clear, and those who suffer are suffering even more now. We must help each other, regardless of race, gender, age and nationality. More people are surviving COVID-19 than dying from it, which means there is more hope than fear. For those of us who survive, Mother Nature needs us to change.

Kotchakorn Voraakhom
TED Talk: How to transform sinking cities into landscapes that fight floods


Where are you living?

I am living in Kampala.

How has the pandemic changed your community?

I live in a refugee community. With the lockdown imposed by the government, most people can no longer do their businesses or go to work because both public and private transport have been banned. Schools, churches, bars and all related public gatherings have been banned, too.

Most people in my community stay at home — sometimes without anything to eat — because many of them survive on daily income. Currently, more refugees are more worried about hunger than COVID-19. Recently, the government has announced that they will distribute food to the most vulnerable people, but no one knows when this will happen if it will include refugees.

How has it changed your daily life?

I can no longer go to work and I’m forced to work from home, and my children only play inside. Every time I do go out, I carry hand sanitizer and when I come back I have to wash my hands with water and soap. I used to meet with so many people, but now I am avoiding them for fear of infection.

I spend my time sharing information about COVID-19 on social media and other networks with my community in the language that they understand, but I’m also trying to raise money to buy food for the most vulnerable. So far, I have supported 20 families and have just raised funds to support another 40.

What message would you like to share with the world at this time?

COVID-19 is real and a serious threat to all of us, so everyone should take the necessary measures to protect themselves and their families. At the same time, I’d like to say that refugees and other displaced people should not be left behind and alone in this COVID-19 period.

Robert Hakiza
TED Talk: Refugees want empowerment, not handouts


Where are you living?


How has the pandemic changed your community?

Many journalists are working harder but receiving less money because of the financial crisis in the media. Some outlets have shut down or laid off staff, and high-quality independent journalism in Ukraine is now under threat.

The fact-checking community that I belong to has more work than ever because of the sheer amount of false news, manipulations and conspiracy theories about coronavirus. There is also good news — StopFake has now become a Facebook partner for fact-checking in Ukraine. Our experts can mark false news on the platform, and users will see their marks.

Russian propaganda, which is one of our focuses, is trying to use the crisis to persuade the West to revoke sanctions imposed as a punishment against Russia for military aggression in Ukraine.

To this end, it disseminates a great deal of manipulative news through its channels. They are promoting the narrative that Ukraine is allegedly unable to withstand this crisis because of the financial downturn and the weakness of the authorities, so it can be written off.

How has it changed your daily life?

My workplace is still at home. But while I had communicated and traveled a lot before, now my world is confined to my apartment and the nearest supermarkets. Many projects have been postponed or canceled. Professionally, as a witness of huge information challenges, apart from my everyday work, I am constantly producing new ideas — for example, monitoring responsible coverage of the pandemic in the Ukrainian media and developing recommendations for them and for the government on how to communicate better. We are actively trying to find support for these ideas, and it’s also a challenge as time is running out quickly. We are also looking for opportunities to collaborate internationally to better address disinformation.

What strategies or routines have you developed to stay sane during this time?

I try to set and stick to the daily routine. Previously, I was comfortable with some chaos in my life but it works well only if the world around is orderly and predictable. When the world is chaotic, order and routine become a mainstay. I’ve been doing morning exercises since I was 17; this is my most useful habit ever.

Some of my days have become an endless succession of video meetings. In order not to burn out, I’ve learned to return myself to my body through meditation.

On weekends, I meet friends for coffee online through video chat. We are cooking some desserts to create the atmosphere of a real weekend. This helps to structure the week and gives me a way to recharge with positive emotions. Every day, I try to find someone I can help or inspire as there are a lot of people who really need help now. I also call my parents daily.

What message would you like to share with the world at this time?

There are three types of information on coronavirus: facts, expert assumptions and unconfirmed points of view. Take into account only the facts and assumptions that come from trusted, knowledgeable sources.

Olga Yurkova
TED Talk: Inside the fight against Russia’s fake news empire


Where are you living right now?

I’m in Santa Barbara, California, where I was an Artist-In-Residence with the Squire Foundation.

How would you sum up the situation in your country?


How has the pandemic changed your community?

The classical music community is struggling — obviously, there can be no concerts for some time, and many orchestras are choosing between layoffs and doing their best to pay musicians through superhuman fundraising efforts.

Hopefully the stimulus package helps, but in the meantime, many musicians are sharing music online and trying to stay creative, present and hopeful. I am trying to connect not only with those who would benefit from the cathartic, uplifting experience of hearing live music online, but also to use this time to think about what we might do to make our industry better when we are through the pandemic.

How has it changed your daily life?

When I began to realize the scale of what was coming to the US, I grabbed my cello and started playing Bach. I knew I might not be the only person stressed out, so I opened up Facebook and shared it live. I’ve been doing that every day since and sharing more on Instagram and my Patreon account than I ever have.

I’ve also been working on projects with TED Social, Chase Jarvis’s CreativeLive and WaitWhat to connect uplifting and powerful music to people who need it; I’m working really hard to connect the dots between personal values and professional/artistic impact. I want to see classical musicians being as creative with our role in society as we can be with our musicianship. It’s something that has been a mission for a long time, and I know many others recognize a need to be more open and connected to our communities. Right now, there’s no other way it can happen.

This is a moment when structures need to be built to be more equitable and more accessible, not just in classical music but for everyone. We should not just wait for this to pass and return to the way things were, so every day when I wake up this is what I work towards.

What strategies or routines are you following to stay grounded during this time?

I’ve been trying to stay consistent with meditation. Mostly I have mantras for my values, and I get incredible energy from the drive to help in whatever way I can, whether it’s playing music for people who need a moment of peace or catharsis or trying to understand what positive actions we can take to not only help people in need right now but make sure we don’t leave people behind as we move through this crisis.

What message would you like to share with the world?

Right now, we should examine our individual and collective values. If they aren’t useful in this crisis, they were probably not the right values in the first place.

Life has thrown us a curveball, but if you dig really deep, we are facing the same issues we always face: Life is short, uncertain, and we need love, connection and support.

At this moment, the urgency of the questions of life are unprecedented but the essential questions are the same, and so should be the answers: Be healthy, be kind, be compassionate, take positive action to help those you can. This is our challenge.

Joshua Roman
TED Performance with Robert Gupta: On violin and cello, “Passacaglia

Editor’s note: These responses were collected from March 30 through April 7, 2020.