Early on in the COVID-19 pandemic, twin sisters Swathi and Shurabi Anphalagan decided to volunteer at a vaccine clinic in their home city of Brampton where the virus spread more quickly among a population less likely to be able to work from home.
They met children eager to know why the pandemic had caused such drastic changes to daily life and families wanting to stay healthy but struggling to understand complex and shifting medical information in order to do so.
So the pair started Twin Tales, a project to create and share children’s books that would translate scientific information into accessible storylines.
“There was a lack of resources for young children to comprehend the pandemic and understand the importance of social distancing, getting vaccinated, wearing a mask, so that's why we started this initiative,” said Swathi, noting that older family members with limited English skills would also benefit.
The teens, inspired by the pandemic experiences, have both just finished their first year studying medical science at Western University in London, Ont.
And after writing, illustrating and publishing two books educating children on the value of vaccinations, they have since written another two based on consultations with teachers and others in their community; one encouraging confidence and acceptance for children with skin conditions such as vitiligo, albinism, alopecia and acne, and the other about making spaces accessible for people with physical disabilities.
Hoping to use their natural curiosity as an asset, Shurabi said the books “allow children to know how to ask those questions, know how to approach people or see how they should treat people with disabilities and eliminate the biases they might have.”
The two health advocates won $1,000 at a pitch competition last September, some of which they used to print their books to donate to schools in Sri Lanka.
The two also make sure to include characters that represent diverse ethnic and cultural backgrounds, including an Indigenous teacher in their most recent book, to emphasize to their young audiences that they can pursue whatever they want in life.
In the last school year, the twins presented the books to several classes virtually and found kids more interested in the books related to diversity and acceptance. The students in one class were eager to learn about albinism because they knew a student with the condition.
Twin sisters and health advocates Swathi and Shurabi Anphalagan want to bridge gaps between health-care knowledge and practice. The teen medical science students from Brampton have published four children’s books so far that promote healthy living.
“Just seeing how passionate they are about gaining that knowledge is what moves us forward,” Shurabi said. “And we hope to educate more students just like that.”
The sisters plan to write more stories focused on inclusivity, including ones related to mental health issues and neurodiversity, and hope to do more in-person presentations in classrooms.
Morgan Sharp / Local Journalism Initiative / Canada’s National Observer