With lives around the world upturned by the coronavirus, sometimes it’s the small gestures that leave a lasting impact. Like receiving a handwritten, personalised note after a long shift that not only acknowledges your work but also thanks you for your courage and strength.
It’s this very idea that led Mumbai's Pooja Pradeep, who founded the global non-profit Letters of Love, to launch a new initiative – the #DearHeroes project.
"A friend of mine, Christopher Littlefield, checked in on a few nursing directors in the US and upon being told that his words of acknowledgement meant much to them, he thought of how letters could be a silver lining in their hectic days," she tells The National.
"He got in touch at a time when I was already figuring out the logistical nightmare of bringing human connection in a socially distanced world through handwritten letters."
Littlefield's feedback, Pradeep says, served as the "thrust" needed and on April 10, she launched the #DearHeroes Campaign. The concept allows people to email messages of gratitude to those fighting the pandemic on the front lines, with a team of volunteers handwriting the notes on to letters they then deliver to healthcare workers.
Scroll through the gallery below to see more from the Abu Dhabi arm of the project:
In Abu Dhabi, the #DearHeroes project is managed by Shruthi Vijayan, communications director for Letters of Love, and Arun Varghese, an operations manager. The pair reached out to Abu Dhabi Health Services (Seha), and on Thursday, April 16, received confirmation that the group would be happy to receive letters to distribute among healthcare workers.
“It all happened in a flash,” says Vijayan. “We didn’t have the resources needed to raise awareness about the initiative ourselves so we reached out to Blank Canvas Community which played a huge role in rallying the local community, and getting volunteers to write personalised messages for the frontline workers."
The messages came from volunteers themselves as well as from strangers all over the world who were able to send in submissions through the Letters of Love website.
"Thank you for sharing your time and energy with us – we appreciate it, stay strong," read one such message from a well-wisher in Egypt while another, from India, compared medical professionals to superheroes. "You are the real Avengers the world needs right now, thank you for your dedication in keeping us safe," it read.
Letters of Love also encouraged the use of upcycled or scrap paper when writing messages.
On April 28, Vijayan and Varghese travelled around Abu Dhabi, wearing masks and gloves, and collected the messages, which they had requested be properly handled and sanitised. The result? More than 5,000 letters – the largest number the non-profit has ever collected.
“Campaign ambassadors that deserve a special mention are Aysia Cornell who wrote 1,200 letters and Nicole Simoes who penned 500 letters for staff,” says Vijayan.
Seha officials collected the letters on April 29, and distributed them to workers at Abu Dhabi’s Corniche Hospital and Sheikh Khalifa Medical City.
Then, mid-May, they had a surprise for Letters of Love – pictures and videos that showed frontline workers, from nurses and doctors to hospital security, reading out or holding the letters.
“The reaction was amazing,” says Vijayan. “I think we all just need a little hope right now, especially those on the front line who are choosing to go in every day.
"We just wanted to make sure they are acknowledged for the work they are doing, and know that the rest of the world is not taking it for granted. With letters being a tangible, long-lasting reminder, we hope they will always remember that they made a difference."