“I think the way governments around the world dealt with the pandemic led young people to get more interested in politics”

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Neo Kalungu-Banda is only 19 years old but he has already written a self-help book offering life lessons to other young people. He tells Adamah Media about the impact of the pandemic on young people, and how he’s discovered its silver lining…

Hi Neo, many thanks for offering to speak to us about your debut self-help book INSPIRED. Could you please introduce yourself and tell us what your book is about?

Of course. I’m Neo Kalungu-Banda. I’m 19 years old and I am currently in my second year at the University of Leicester in the UK studying psychology. Some of my passions are writing, coaching and mentoring young people, football, and listening to other people’s stories. I have recently released my debut book, INSPIRED: The stories within and around us. It is based on the theme of ‘inspiration’ and features people, places and events that have inspired me as well as times where I have drawn inspiration from within myself, and also how I found inspiration in the lockdown. It gives advice, tips and lessons on how to live a more fulfilled and enriched life. 

Your book INSPIRED is based on your life story and touches on important themes such as the aspirations of Generation Z and young people negotiating a changing world during a pandemic. What do you think was the specific impact of the pandemic on young people, in particular the imposed lockdowns?

I think the way governments around the world dealt with the pandemic and the various lockdowns led young people to get more interested in politics and how countries are being run. 

Various decisions made by world leaders throughout the pandemic were very questionable and I think this caused people of all ages, but the younger generations specifically, to really think about whether they were happy with the governing class.

The lockdowns also had very negative impacts on young people. For most young people, lockdowns completely disrupted our timetables and lives. Humans are used to routine and tend to prefer it, but the lockdown ruined young people’s routines. This led many to having setbacks with their mental health, their work prospects, social lives, and even future aspirations. It was definitely a challenging time for everyone. 

Despite the cons of the lockdowns, there were also many pros. Being locked in your home for months gave space for creativity. Many young people found new hobbies and interests to keep themselves busy. Countless challenges were roaming around social media. 

Lockdown also gave space for young people to take a step back from our screens and look to the simpler things in life. 

These included having time to spend with your family, getting to know your siblings more, and getting to know yourself more. Lastly, the lockdowns also gave space for new entrepreneurial ideas. Many young people decided to do various things such as set up their own business, begin a YouTube channel on how to keep your mental health well during the pandemic, and various other things. Some, like me, even began writing a book!

Neo’s family – Sister, Dad and Mum at the book launch.

Your A Levels were put on hold as a result of the pandemic. How was your life personally affected by this crisis in both negative and positive ways and how did you explore this in your book? 

Yes, initially I was very happy with the cancellation of my exams and the enormous amount of free time I now had on my hands. But it wasn’t long until having so much free time and such a change in my schedule began to affect me. 

I went from having a strict sixth form timetable with a set structure to living in a complete limbo in the space of a day. I now had more time on my hands than I could ask for and I wasn’t sure how I was going to use it. I was pretty certain that the government and universities were going to be more lenient that year for entry requirements into university, so getting into uni didn’t worry me too much, but it did worry some of my peers. 

One day we were A-level students, and the next day we had already completed our secondary education. The change was so abrupt. 

I was initially slightly scared by the effects that COVID-19 might have at the time and this had a real effect on me during the first week of lockdown. In the ‘How time in lockdown inspired me’ section of my book I write: “During the first week of lockdown, on 26th March, I had a day which flicked a switch in my brain regarding how dangerous this virus truly was.” 

On the other hand, after the initial scare, I had some really good experiences during the pandemic and while in lockdown, I learnt a lot. First and foremost, I managed to start writing INSPIRED, after I was challenged by my friend Gilbert Healey during the early days of lockdown to write a book. 

Secondly, I learnt new skills such as how to play the piano. I also read a lot more during the pandemic. As I write in my book, “The various lockdowns have sparked opportunities for people to embark on new adventures, make new discoveries, find new interests and begin new hobbies. I believe we should at least recognise it for that and seize these opportunities whenever they become apparent to us.”

With his teachers from his secondary school, Blessed George Napier (BGN), after donating copies of the book to the school.

Time is something I truly treasure and try to not take for granted, so when given such an opportunity I knew I had the space to do something special. 

One of the main reasons my energy didn’t deplete during this difficult time was because I soon realised that I enjoyed writing and had a passion for it once I began writing the chapters. It didn’t feel like work or a chore to me, other than actually finding the time to sit down and write. Once I got typing it was a moment of euphoria and brought me peace and relief. 

Lockdown also gave me the space and opportunity to go somewhere by myself and experience solitude for the first time, something positive I could go and do whenever I wanted. Also, once I got going in the writing process, it was my own form of labour, something to keep me busy, and grounded. I had the goal of finishing my book and this helped me simply to stay focused, motivated and inspired. 

You previously played in a semi-professional football club, Brackley Town – as well as local clubs, Banbury Irish and Banbury United. What did you gain from this experience and how did it provide inspiration for the book?

Football has taught me so much both on and off the pitch, about life, how to treat others and how to treat myself. 

It has taught me to treat others with respect, always. It also taught me that life may not go as I want it to go and that it is unpredictable. During my football days I learnt more about my body and mind, their capabilities and limits and the best way to use them. 

It gave me a space to escape from the world for up to 90 minutes and truly be free. This escape became more valuable as I began to grow older and life got more serious, especially during the time when I had the pressure of preparing to write my GCSE exams.

Do you feel that your voice as a young Black male, especially in light of the recent events of the Black Lives Matter movement, is particularly relevant at this moment in time and why?

I definitely feel that my voice is relevant at this time. The Black Lives Matter movement has made people of all races open both their eyes and ears to the issues going on in our society. As a young black male whose life is a part of the movement, I hope that people will be interested in what I have to say on this topic. 

The death of George Floyd, along with many other black victims, was a catalyst which highlighted the simple message that not all people are seen and treated equally. Taking the knee takes a real stand against these injustices and problems in our society that need urgent fixing. 

With the President and Vice-Chancellor of Leicester University (where Neo is currently studying), after Neo donated copies of ‘INSPIRED’ to the university’s Library.

You are a young man of faith. What is your faith and how has that inspired you? Isn’t it surprising that a 19-year-old should have religious faith in today’s secular society?

Yes, I’m a committed Christian and my faith matters a lot to me. I was brought up in a Catholic family and, as I have grown, I have seen the true value of faith and what it adds to my life. My faith inspires me in the sense that I believe in the fundamental teachings of the Catholic Church and I aspire to live by these teachings. I’m very much involved in activities to support the faith of other youngsters. Indeed, there are more young people with religious faith in Britain than it might appear. When so much in contemporary society seems so empty, our faith gives us meaning.

Intrigued? Neo’s book can be ordered from here. Discover more about INSPIRED here. For articles for Adamah written by Neo, see here and here.


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