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Reasons to be Cheerful // The Heroes we Never Knew we Needed

Updated: Apr 11, 2023

We've been following The Worldwide Tribe for quite some time. Luckily its founder, Jaz O'Hara is just as open and caring as one imagines her to be, and when we reached out to her, she quickly responded. When she came to Paris last year with her partner Josh, founder of Do Something For Nothing, we invited them to attend a Soul Food excursion at the Refettorio Paris, where we had a lovely evening with a few of our English-speaking young members from The Gambia and Afghanistan. After a lovely meal, we had time to exchange, hear more about their respective journeys and upcoming projects amplifying vulnerable voices, and we've been rooting for them from afar ever since. It's always rewarding and reinvigorating to spend time with kindred spirits and inspiring people, and that evening was a wonderful example of this. We are incredibly honoured to have the following contribution to the blog, from such a special guest writer (accompanied by beautiful photographs), and we are dreaming of the day when international travel becomes safe again and we can collaborate in person.

Since lockdown began, we’ve had to adapt in our house. Four housemates in a two bedroom flat who were like passing ships most of the time, we had never got in each other’s way. Suddenly, we are all at home together. At first it was a little bubble of fun, but soon, we needed a purpose to continue getting us out of bed every day. We’re all storytellers by nature. My partner Josh and I both unpick stereotypes about some of society's most marginalised, and we do so through telling their stories. Josh is a hairdresser for people experiencing homelessness, and he shares a before-and-after photo alongside their story on Instagram. 

Photo © Jaz O'Hara

Photo © Jaz O'Hara

I host a podcast and make films about refugees. We often both travel internationally but as you can imagine, just like for most of us, our lives have changed since lockdown. Our housemate Joe is also a storyteller; a creative in advertising, his freelance jobs came to an end a couple of months back and he too was looking for something to get his teeth into during this time. Well we didn’t need to look far...

Photo © Sequoia Ziff

One day, just before lockdown began Josh and I were in our local Aldi supermarket, shocked by the empty shelves and mob mentality of people fighting over toilet roll. As we were paying for the bits we could still get our hands on, we got chatting to the guy behind our till. His name was Jarvis and he told us:

“I’m trying to explain to customers, you don’t need 10, 15, or 20 of one thing. Leave a few on the shelf for another customer, for people who can’t bulk buy, or who might not have the opportunity of getting here at eight in the morning. They look you dead in the eye like it doesn’t make a difference.”

Jarvis’ words got us thinking. How are people like him coping during this time? Those still having to turn up to work each morning, unsure of the consequences. Would these voices be included in this historic crisis? We returned the next day to take his portrait and listen to his story, along with other workers and customers from the supermarket.

After sharing his words online, we wanted to tell more stories, but new quarantine restrictions made it increasingly difficult to meet more people. So we put our heads together. Suddenly we noticed how many key workers were coming to our door. Our postman. The delivery drivers. The bin men. The heroes we never knew we needed. We captured their portraits with the rule to ‘Document at a distance.’

Then the project began to grow. The first bridge we built internationally was to Los Angeles, where our photographer friend Al captured an incredible portrait of an ICU nurse named Brittni. Her story represented the people working on the frontline of the pandemic. The healthcare workers, experiencing this in full force. She said,

“I didn't think it would really affect me emotionally but with my first Covid patient, when I left the room it was hard to hold back the tears. He was 50 years old and had no existing health conditions.”

It was harrowing to hear Brittni’s story, but her words sparked inspiration.

Photo © Al Noelle Walter

COVID-19 is a global pandemic and it was important we reflected that in our work.

Through Instagram, we connected with photographers and creatives from lots of different countries, and soon enough, a global collective of photographers was forming and gaining momentum. Our WhatsApp group was buzzing with new portraits and stories from every continent, bringing new perspectives and introducing more people to participate in the movement. Our multinational team now has charters from Estonia to Taiwan, and Melbourne to Yangon. But it doesn’t stop there. Our ambitions for the future involve exhibitions and publishing a People of the Pandemic book, as well as telling the stories of people when the pandemic is over. Those who lost loved ones, those who lost their jobs, or the scientists who helped to find a cure.

People of the Pandemic exists to set the tone of a new chapter, a culture where everyday people become our new role models, because they’re the ones who got us through this crisis.

So how do we want people to feel when all this is over? That through an unprecedented, uncertain period of our lives, it was supporting one another that got us through...and this is my reason to be cheerful.

Photo © Vivien Huss
Photo © Al Noelle Walter
Photo © Raffaella Bichiri and Adam Riley
Photo © Raffaella Bichiri and Adam Riley

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