15 August 2020

Lives on hold: how young people are faring in a COVID-19 world

| Elka Wood
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Mikki Boffa wearing musk during bushfire.

Mikki Boffa, from Bega, during the past summer’s bushfires. Photo: Supplied.

What were you doing when you were 19? Or 21?

COVID-19 restrictions have impacted various age groups very differently and people in their teens and 20s have been one of the hardest hit demographics. Many people are missing out on travel, socialising and employment opportunities as whole sectors that provide work for young people have constricted.

Mikki Boffa is 19 years old and finished year 12 at Bega High School last year. She had planned on taking a gap year before joining the police acadamy, however the summer brought bushfires which threatened her parent’s property, closely followed by COVID-19 restrictions. As a result, she’s found her life taking a very different direction.

“I’ve barely even seen people since school finished because of the fires and then COVID19,” she says. “I never knew I would miss school this much.”

Mikki met her boyfriend, Jordan, about 10 months ago while they were both working in hospitality.

“We’d both been working at The Waterfront Cafe in Merimbula before someone [a customer] came and later tested positive for the virus,” she says. “It had been so busy. We’d been getting heaps of shifts, but after that happened I’ve only been called for three shifts.”

READ ALSO The emotional toll of family separation during COVID-19

Mikki and Jordan both qualified for JobKeeper payments and they are grateful they don’t have to worry about money. But the couple has found it hard to find affordable rent in Bega and moving to a city would be even more expensive so they are living with Jordan’s parents in Bega.

Mikki says she is finding it hard to stay positive about the future.

“There’s not much happening,” she says. “We can’t really go out and there are no parties. There’s not much work, although Jordan is getting a few more shifts now.”

Circus and street performer Rhys Davies balancing juggling club on nose.

Professional circus and street performer Rhys Davies. Photo: Supplied.

While Mikki hasn’t been able to make the move from Bega Valley, for Rhys Davies, 21, who grew up in Cobargo and Bega, COVID-19 has brought him back to the region after he ran away to join the circus when he was 16.

“I joined Circus Aotearoa when I was 16 and travelled around New Zealand for a year before moving on to doing my own street shows in Melbourne and around the world,” explains Rhys.

If not for COVID-19, he would be performing at Edinburgh Fringe Festival this month.

“It’s the first time the festival has ever been cancelled,” says Rhys. “Edinburgh is a month of shows and is usually my best income all year.”

Like Mikki, Rhys is grateful he qualifies for JobKeeper but says the abrupt change from a life on the move, always working, to the quiet life in Bega has had a big impact on his mental health.

 Rhys Davies performing to a large crowd at Leicester Square in London.

Rhys Davies performing at Leicester Square in London, in October 2019. Photo: Supplied.

“It’s been a drastic change in lifestyle, that’s for sure,” he says. “My work was everything to me so I’ve had to ask myself, ‘What else is there?’ Most of my friends are performers who I see at events so I was pretty isolated and lonely when I first came back.

READ ALSO Feeling uncertain during COVID-19? You’re not alone

“The situation is extremely hard on everyone, but for young people, it’s quite depressing. I don’t mean to rub it in but we’re going to be on this earth for longer than some of you so it’s important to us that the future is positive.”

Rhys hasn’t given up on the idea of performing and says he’s always looking for places the virus is more under control, to see if he can begin to make solid plans again.

Having something to look forward to is important to us all.

A few months ago, Mikki found out she is pregnant. While having kids was in her long-term plan, it wasn’t something she had planned to do immediately, but with other options drying up, she and Jordan decided to go ahead with the pregnancy.

“Is this a COVID-19 baby? Yes, definitely!” she laughs. “We’ve got time on our hands so we may as well do this now rather than later.”

At 19, I was getting ready to make the move from Bega to Melbourne. I spent my 21st birthday in Amsterdam and Paris. Please be thoughtful about what the young people in your life are missing out on.

For information and help, visit Beyond Blue or Lifeline.

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Nienke Haantjens9:40 pm 18 Aug 20

love your thinking Elka! Well done again

It’s certainly tough on them. My son and his girlfriend moved to Melbourne for Uni in February and we’re home again by April after losing their accommodation in Melbourne. I’m glad they are here safe and sound with us and that they both have work. I’m also sad that it is frustrating for them as they don’t know if they will be able to go back this year. My son is now thinking about other options to become a pilot in NSW. Becoming a pilot is a bit of a risk at the moment with so many out of work but it is his passion 💜

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