Collierville, 12, tells TIME magazine about his difficulties with COVID-19
After being immersed in the COVID-19 pandemic more than a year ago, a girl from Collierville was determined to help adults and children struggling with this unprecedented time.
“It (the pandemic) doesn’t seem real,” said Shanaya Pokharna, 12.
During the pandemic, Shanaya watched both of her parents battle the coronavirus, went to school online, and helped lead an initiative to get residents of Memphis vaccinated.
She also shared her experiences on TIME magazine and TIME for Kids.
“I had no idea I would be in TIME magazine,” said Shanaya, a college student at Lausanne Collegiate School. “I was really excited. I wasn’t expecting it.”
“I just woke up one day and my parents were like, ‘Oh my God, you’re on TIME’ and I was like ‘What?'”
In June 2020, TIME for Kids asked young people around the world for their thoughts on COVID-19 and Shanaya expressed her frustrations, fears and anxieties in an email to the publication. When TIME contacted her back in June 2021, she had no idea she would be featured in the magazine.
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TIME magazine spoke to 16 children from around the world and published an article on how the pandemic has affected children and what they have learned.
Shanaya – who was the only Mid-South child in the article – described the pandemic as “unimaginable, unfathomable, unforgettable”.
She said the pandemic taught her not to take loved ones for granted, especially after both of her parents fell ill with COVID-19 on different occasions.
Her mother, Payal Pokharna, endured high fevers, cough, shortness of breath and about 20 days of isolation from her family.
“We had just returned from vacation and my mother was sick with COVID,” Shanaya said. “My dad was working and that was when COVID was at its peak. He was in the hospital most of the day trying to take care of me, my mom and my 7 year old brother.”
Then, in November, the infectious disease of Shanaya’s father, Dr Hiren Pokharna, tested positive for the coronavirus and spent five days in the hospital with difficulty breathing.
“It was really tough,” Shanaya said. “I wanted to share my story and get it out there so people know how scary this disease is.”
Her mother’s struggle inspired Shanaya to spread information about COVID-19. So she recorded a TED-Ed student lecture on “How a virus invaded the world”.
Shanaya wanted to do more and worked with 901 Pledge, a children’s organization to help children in the community, to encourage residents to get vaccinated against COVID-19.
Shanaya and her father came up with the #FightCOVIDWiththeShot challenge.
The kids in 901 Pledge would record themselves having a drink of something sour, bitter, or spicy – like lemon juice and hot sauce – and then nominate at least five people to also take the stroke.
“It’s an important thing to do to normalize the world,” she said.
Shanaya and her parents received the vaccine and for now, she is interrupting her work to educate people about COVID-19. She hopes more people will be hit in the arms so she can go back to school and “enjoy being a child.”
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Payal Pokharna said she was proud of her daughter and her desire to help people.
“Over the past year, she has matured a lot,” Payal Pokharna said. “She worked really hard, and I’m super proud of her and the TIME article was super exciting.”
Shanaya said she was now working on an article to advocate for gun safety in schools and was trying to take advantage of her summer vacation.
Dima Amro is covering the suburbs for The Commercial Appeal and can be reached at [email protected]