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26 Aug 2020

The Kisah project: Life through a different lens

A photo essay collaboration between UNDP Accelerator Lab Malaysia and School of Education, Taylor’s University


Taylor’s University

Hema Letchamanan

Professor Dr Moses Samuel

Sukhpreet Kaur

Irdina Ismaida Zamri

Monica Haque

Noramylia binti Khairul Azhar Neo

UNDP Accelerator Lab Malaysia

Maneesha Kaur



The COVID-19 pandemic understandably evokes a huge amount of emotions especially amongst people who are marginalized. This photoessay captures, through their voices and photographs, some adolescents’ lived experiences during the Movement Control Order in Malaysia. These adolescents shared how they coped, and are still coping, with the pandemic, and what the new normal means to them. They are all aged between 14-17, and fall under the urban poor category. These adolescents are vulnerable and have been forced to take on new “adult” responsibilities during the pandemic, yet they are resilient, and ingenious in finding alternative ways to keep themselves occupied for the past few months. Due to the digital divide and limited learning facilities at home, their learning during the school closure has taken a backseat and may lead to a greater gap in achievement when these adolescents return to school. This photoessay tells the stories of how adolescents from similar backgrounds experience COVID-19 and the implications of school closure for them. The stories provide not only snapshots of what kind of learning happens in these adolescents’ homes and the digital divide that further disenfranchises them, but also their dreams for the future.


Aina and Amir*, two siblings


Missing the Outdoors

“[I] feel frustrated, when [my] siblings and I feel bored everyday, when we see the same faces everyday. [I am looking forward to school reopening so] I can go on field trips.” – Amir



Pursuing normalcy

“My siblings and I are always tired. They are also unhappy and stressed out. We don’t feel like doing much work. We always have discussions about this when we hang out together after housework and finishing homework. ” 


Wealth Amidst Poverty

“This is the path I use everyday to walk home from my teacher’s house. There is Sunway Putra next to it. It’s nice.” 


Freedom in a glance

“During MCO I feel unhappy and stressed out. It is very boring to stay home. We did not leave the house for 4 months.” 



Family ties

“For me, that photo is so important because they are my everything. When I’m stressed or happy they are there for me.”


Silence and Serenity at Night

“Before the MCO, the city was bustling, from night till the morning, because people worked, the streets were so happening, many people hung out at the mamak store, so many things. I couldn’t go out during MCO so I was just relaxing, there were no cars so when it rained, you could hear. ”


Moments of Clarity

“That’s actually a part of my hobbies. I love doing peaceful things so when I do journaling or any sort of drawing I do it at the desk. When I have free time, I do self care. I always sit there to do school work, listen to songs, and always have ideas for journaling and where I want to work after SPM.”


Escapism in the COVID-19 era

“Those pictures are actually part of my really valuable collection, those cupsleeves are really meaningful to me, because of the teenage memories. I always used to go to cupsleeve events to meet other new fans who discussed why they became fans. Seeing them at those events made me happy so I’m inspired by those designs to make my own. When I look at these, I feel thrilled because it’s personal motivation from BTS (a boyband).” 


Life Imitates Art

When I have anxiety or feel sad, I go here, recite prayers and look at this and remind myself to not be down and calm myself down. The shoe is actually a creation of my own and the drawings on top of the shoes were influenced by a TikTok because someone shared a drawing and art of their own and actually it is part of my idea to start a shoe art business if possible, insyaAllah.” 



Sweet distractions

“[Cendol is special to me because] I like that food. Iit is one of my [favourites].  I feel happy and I forget all my problems for a while.”


The Old Normal

“Of course because I cannot [leave the house] and even like when [the MCO became stricter], it was stressful as I cannot go out or hang out for a while. It was a stressful time.”


Change in the Air

“[When I meet my friends now I feel] excited and not so excited. You know usually you can touch there and here and now we can’t.” 



Daily Routine

“During school closure, I cook and take care of my younger brothers”


In Need of Players

 “This is one of my favourite games. But I feel sad I couldn’t meet my friends during MCO. I only talk to them over the phone”



“ First I think positive, I always think that if something happens, I always think  of the hikmah of it. Why [did] this thing happen and there must be hikmah to anything that [happens]. So like Covid I think the hikmah is [prioritize cleanliness] like before this like it’s okay and all but now we have to wipe it and all.”







A photoessay collaboration between UNDP Accelerator Lab Malaysia and School of Education, Taylor’s University
People, Planet, Prosperity, Peace
UNDP knowledge product
Contributed with: Taylor’s University