The spread of the Coronavirus has changed lives for people across the globe, with extended periods in lockdown and the loss of loved ones.
Colchester United apprentice Al-Amin Kazeem has experienced the impact first-hand, as his mother continues to treat patients on the frontline as a nurse in the Intensive Care Unit at Princess Alexandra Hospital.
“My mum has been working roughly 13 hours a day, dealing with a lot of the Covid-19 patients,” he told LFE. “She comes back with sore feet and she’s very tired, so even though she comes home, she’s not really present because she goes off to bed most days to rest for her next shift.
“She tells me that there’s hardly any time to rest or have any breaks during the day because there’s a massive influx of people coming in to be treated. They have to provide beds and make sure they’re clean.
“She’s dealing with people who have very severe symptoms and she said it’s been the toughest time she’s had, but she just carries on and stays focused on trying to save as many people as possible. It’s worrying – I’m proud of what she’s doing but also don’t want her to get the disease.”
With his father working from home as a contractor in banking, Kazeem has accepted extra responsibility around the house, taking care of his four younger siblings, in particular his youngest brothers – aged seven and eight.
“Seeing my mum has left a big impression on me in the way she’s taken everything in her stride and has worked so hard,” he said. “Every day that she comes home, my dad will pamper her. He’ll ask her what she needs and he cooks for us all.
“I help to take care of my siblings, so he can focus more on his work and my mum. The two teenagers can handle themselves really, so I take care of the two youngest ones. I make sure they have a bath or shower in the morning and I’ll also read them bedtime stories, which they enjoy.
“If they’re hungry, I’ll get them food and I make sure they do some reading or do their maths homework for school. Their attention span isn’t the longest and at first it was a challenge, but I’ve persisted with trying to embed a routine and now we’ve got into a pattern of work in the morning and then they’re rewarded with TV in the afternoon.
“It’s given me more responsibility around the house and I’m happy to take it on. Normally, I wouldn’t really help out or spend much time with them, so it’s been good to connect with them and share some of my experiences, because they like learning about me and hearing stories.”
In addition to these new commitments, the 18-year-old has maintained a training regime to keep his fitness levels high, while he is also working hard studying for three A-Levels.
Kazeem added: “In the afternoons, while the others watch TV, I do my workout routine. I’ll go for a run and then come back to do core, lower and upper body workouts. Being indoors all day and having to look after younger ones can be quite difficult mentally, so it’s important to have some time on your own. Working out helps me relieve all the stress and release some energy.
“Doing my workouts clears my head, so after that I try to spend two or three hours focusing on my work. I’m studying chemistry, physics and maths. We can’t do our exams at the moment but I’m still keen to keep learning and refresh my head of each subject.
“You have to be determined because we’ve got pretty much an unlimited amount of time at the moment, so it’s easy to put it off. My mentality is to get the work done and then I’m able to relax later when my mum gets home.”
The U’s youngster believes his large academic workload has helped him make great strides on the pitch, having impressed on loan at Maldon & Tiptree, while he recently received a professional contract offer from Colchester.
“Education helps with concentration and being open-minded to the information that you’re given when studying,” he said. “You have to source information and ask your teachers in the same way that you’d ask coaches for explanations of certain drills or tactics. This is the case for other areas, like sport science and nutrition.
“As a left-back, if I practice on my defending or my crossing and overall attacking contribution, when I get into a game I’ll show improvement from investing time in that, which is the same as revising topics for an exam paper.”
His thirst for learning has led Kazeem to pursue even more additional interests during lockdown, with the multi-faceted teenager intent on learning two new languages.
He continued: “I’ve been trying to learn Japanese, because I love the culture there, and I’ve also spent time on French as well. My older brother learned French and still keeps up with it, so he helps me with that and he has French friends as well, so they also give me tips.
“I’m struggling at the moment but I’m going to keep trying and see how good I can get. Japanese involves a completely new alphabet and way of speaking and writing, but I’m enjoying the challenge.
At the moment, we’ve got a lot of time to spare, so there’s no better way to use that than by learning something new to develop yourself. You don’t want to just sit around and do nothing. Use this time to be productive and add a skill to your arsenal.”
If that was not already enough, Kazeem is hoping to follow in the footsteps of his two older siblings by studying a University degree alongside football.
“My sister’s studying architecture at Anglia Ruskin and my brother’s studying electronic engineering at Southampton,” he said. “I’ve been looking at the Open University to potentially start studying a degree in my spare time as a professional footballer.
“I’m looking at chemistry or something within that department, like chemical engineering. I’ve been fascinated by chemistry since the start of secondary school. I enjoy trying to absorb as much information as I can and trying to understand the different concepts.
“My dad’s always tried to make sure I stay open-minded and it can never harm you to have something else in your locker. Education can’t be a detriment, it’s only a positive.”
Al-Amin Kazeem features in Issue 40 of LFE’s Touchline magazine.