• Sunday, Jul 05, 2020
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OP-ED: The unexpected benefits of social distancing

  • Published at 09:44 pm June 26th, 2020
‘Mojar School’ comes forward to aid street children

For many children, social distancing is a lifelong reality

“Thank you for your curiosity about my child’s wellbeing.” 

This is the first line on the cards my mom made when I was younger. Cards that she would hand to strangers who would stare, point, and back away from me. I was born with a rare skin condition known as Harlequin Ichthyosis and, ever since birth, I have been told that I am different. 

I remember thinking to myself when I was younger: Am I really that different? Why do people care about how I look? Why can’t everyone be treated the same? And, until this day, I still don’t know the answer. 

Across the world, children born with Ichthyosis or any other conditions that alter their appearance or mannerisms are subjected to social ostracism, isolation, and neglect every day. I am lucky enough to surround myself with friends and family who look beyond my condition, but to many children with apparent disabilities, being accepted for who they are is nothing more than a distant dream. 

When I first heard about the practice of “social-distancing” being implemented worldwide in response to the Covid-19 outbreak, I couldn’t help but relate it back to children like me. Children with disabilities who, every day, are distanced (or rather, isolated) by society, because of something they have no control over. For most people, this will be a temporary experience, but for many individuals with disabilities, this is a lifelong sentence. 

While staying inside for days on end is far from ideal, in this time of crisis, I see a window of opportunity. We will emerge from this trial with knowledge of what it feels like to be excluded and distanced from friends, family, and society. It is possible this isolation may lead to alienation and exclusion towards people who are different from us. 

However, as Abdullah Shihipar suggests: “We could come out of this feeling more connected to each other than before.” After this experience, we can better understand how individuals who are continuously ostracized by society feel on a daily basis.

I hope everyone takes away a lesson from this period of social distancing -- that empathy is more important than fear. I hope that everyone can apply that feeling of empathy as they are stuck in a room, unable to go outside and see friends and family, and understand the point made by Dr Lawrence Palinkas that “people don’t even need to be physically isolated to feel a sense of loneliness.”

As Atticus Finch said: “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view … until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” It is time for us to do the same. 

Aliya Kraybill is a freelance contributor.

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