You can also replace the box with a ‘bubble.’ Very apt for all the online packages and delivery boxes we may be receiving during this global pandemic or the expansion of a personal bubble due to social distancing. A year ago, as a prospective global health student, I imagined my summer practicum would be in Nepal, my home. Instead, I am here in Chapel Hill as I have been working from a box in a box for the past three months, i.e. my laptop [end of metaphor, *fingers crossed*]. Ironically, I also realize that if it weren’t for COVID-19, my amazing practicum would have never transpired.
As multiple full-proof plans for the summer fell through during the Spring semester, the North Carolina Institute for Public Health (NCIPH) reached out to integrate with a project in our Photovoice class about COVID-19. It allowed us to create our narrative during the eve of the pandemic and conduct qualitative analysis. I was eager to continue learning more about the process and applied for their summer practicum posting. I was allowed to carve my path and position within the project. This summer, I am working with three other brilliant UNC Gillings MPH students to collect and archive stories from around the state, the nation, and the world. The objective is to curate healthcare workers’ stories during the COVID-19 pandemic and supplement the numerical data. It is almost equivalent to a scoping review practice for a bigger project of creating an interactive map of stories throughout the pandemic, Behind the numbers. I collaborate to sift through hundreds of potential online stories and am individually responsible for tagging and analyzing them from an equity perspective.
We come up with various themes and analyze trends that may be revealed. We confirm the patterns with each other and try to fill in gaps. We also highlight the limitations (Eurocentric, language barriers, publication biases) of the project and challenges of mental and emotional exhaustion of burning through the news after new and social media posts. Lack of resources, violence on health care workers, racism and health disparity, protests and solidarity are some of the themes we have been playing around with for the past couple of weeks.
Every day we wake up to new information around the world and play catch up to encompass what stands out to us in our data collection. We have begun to create a virtual working meeting to hold each other accountable as we work from our couch/bed/kitchen counter. (I have also retired my desk at this point – I resent my office desk.) The designated times, however, does allow for some normalcy and routine, which was extremely helpful. [Resume metaphor] Creating boxes of time for productivity and a sense of solidarity, again within a box- my apartment. And within that solidarity, among my colleagues, peers and friends in Chapel Hill, I am beginning to create a new sense of comfort and home.