The 21 in '21 lead reporter discusses this global project

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Click on the map points to meet the 21-year-olds we interviewed, and to be taken to their stories.

Lowell, Massachusetts

JAAFAR AL OGAILI, blinded by a U.S. grenade in Baghdad as a child, came to the United States as refugee. A new citizen, he chose not to vote in November, feeling no candidate had answers to the problems he sees.

Augusta, Georgia

OLIVIA HOLT, an education major at historically Black Savannah State University, felt challenged by her child-to-adult transition during the pandemic. She partied and caught COVID-19, she witnessed the dramatic national racial reckoning, and she voted in her first presidential election.

Mexico City, Mexico

JIMENA PÉREZ SÁNCHEZ, an art student, is creating a series of paintings to show “a reflection of time” because her world feels at a standstill in the pandemic. Even after months at home, she still fell ill with COVID-19.

Peterborough, Ontario

GRACIE CRAFTS’ life revolves around the environment of Canadian waterways and her Indigenous roots. During the pandemic, she has found solace in carrying out the duties of fire-keeper for the Indigenous students’ tepee at Trent University.

Paris, France

WILLEM LOMBE, son of Congolese immigrants, was a top-ranked French basketball player. He launched a new chapter in 2020: starting two businesses, working a paying retail job, and taking business courses. He remains chipper despite the pandemic economic slowdown.

Berlin, Germany

COSIMA STELTNER is a union activist. Pandemic lockdowns wreaked havoc with the personal contact of negotiations and demonstrations needed in her work. Her happiest moment during the pandemic was being accepted into a master’s program in labor studies.

Amman, Jordan

NUHA SULEIMAN AHMED has squeezed with her extended family of Sudanese refugees into three successively smaller apartments because of pandemic job losses. She’s getting her beautician degree, just as lockdowns eliminate women’s demand for salon services.

Soweto, South Africa

NOLUSINDISO “SINDI” DLAMBEWU spent most of the 2020 pandemic period pregnant and doing school coursework – remotely, with iffy Wi-Fi, and a young cousin to babysit. Her tiny daughter Nkazimulo was born Jan. 16.

Chennai, India

BHUVANESHWARI “BHUVI” VELU lives with her mother in a two-room flat. The first in her family to attend college, she is studying remotely in her last year of an engineering degree. She took job recruitment exams on unstable Wi-Fi.

Kabul, Afghanistan

ZABIHULLAH NOORI, a semi-professional boxer, tried to escape hardships of his homeland by migrating to Europe. At the Iran-Turkey border, guards fired on his group of migrants, killing two – and he was deported home in a pandemic-related sweep.

Beijing, China

LUCY WANG, a Northeastern University finance major with dreams of managing supply chains at places like Amazon and UPS, went home to attend her Boston classes remotely 13 time zones away. She worries the pandemic has locked down her future.

Baad Achad Base, Israel

REBECCA BARUCH is an Israeli military “lone soldier,” having left her Dutch family to immigrate to the homeland of her ancestors. She spent several months of the pandemic in the Negev Desert training to command a female combat intelligence unit.


Longing to fix life: Refugee Nuha Suleiman Ahmed on failure to launch

No funeral possible: Gracie Crafts on pandemic mental health

Creativity and guilt: Artist Jimena Pérez Sánchez on having COVID-19

No Tamil movie ending, yet: Lockdowns dim Bhuvi Velu’s prospects

Pandemic deportation: Zabihullah Noori on escaping Afghanistan

Cotton, the cat: Student Lucy Wang on their Boston-Beijing odyssey

Hovering like a drone: IDF officer Rebecca Baruch on pandemic limbo

An honest cry: New American Jaafar Al Ogaili on illness, friendship

Youth and responsibility: Olivia Holt on partying, voting, race

Chanting through masks: Cosima Steltner on German labor activism

Pandemic buzzkill: French entrepreneur Willem Lombe hits a wall

The big wait: Sindi Dlambewu on pregnancy, remote study in Soweto