What does it mean to be a humanitarian project by Teresa Schreiber Werth

It’s a term we use a lot but what exactly does it mean when we say that our anthology, Navigating the Pandemic: Stories of Hope and Resilience, is a humanitarian project?

As a team of more than 30 contributors, our collective intent is that our book will be used to relieve people’s suffering during this once-in- a-century pandemic, to help people to feel more hopeful, less stressed or alone, more able to cope with whatever the pandemic has caused in their life. Each writer shares a story, poem or vignette that offers a relevant experience. Their words call the reader back from the edge of despair, making them laugh or feel comforted or less alone.

But, alleviating pandemic-related suffering requires more than the printed word. It requires many different types of support and resources – food, clothing, shelter, employment, childcare, schools, medical care, physical safety and security. Emotional support is another “essential resource” desperately needed during these challenging times of uncertainty and inequity. The stories in our anthology attempt to provide such emotional support to diverse communities, especially to the most vulnerable: Indigenous, Black, brown and AAPIP, the elderly, the homeless, migrant farmworkers, addicts, and LGBTQ+ persons.

By sharing our words, writers attempt to address the human suffering caused by COVID-19 in a timely way without engaging in political, racial, religious or ideological controversies. They focus solely on addressing, and hopefully relieving, the many different types of suffering caused by the pandemic. People experiencing so many losses may not realize that each of those losses, subtly but certainly, begins to feel like grief. Eventually, they are overwhelmed by that grief and by the weight of all that they have lost. As our writers, ages 18 – 80, engage in heartfelt storytelling- their words, ideas and experiences forge connections among and between people and ideas. Their stories convey the culture, history, and values that unite us. These connections matter, especially at a time when we have had to be physically distant as we face some of the biggest challenges of our lives. And the longer the pandemic lasts, the more difficult it can become to make those connections and access what people need in order to recover.

We may never know if we achieved any or all of our goals of being a humanitarian project. We will be able to see how much profit was generated by book sales and therefore, how much money we were able to donate to our charity partner, The Society of Refugee Healthcare Providers. We may even follow up on the work The Society is able to accomplish because of our support. We may occasionally receive a reader’s note of appreciation or a critic’s kind review. But we will never know if or how our book changed people’s lives. We will never know if, decades down the road, our accounts of the early days of this pandemic will be understood or appreciated. All we can really be sure of is that we tried.

As writers willing to share and preserve our experiences and observations of the COVID-19 pandemic, we use our words to reach out to people. We validate their grief and let them know they are not alone. We use humor and music, poetry and whimsy, compassion and cultural insights to wrap our arms around a weary world and serve up a generous portion of love and hope.

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