Writer's Block

The USA is the place I was born. Canada is the place I was raised. Taiwan is the place in my heart.

Tuesday, May 13, 2003

Not a day goes by without thought or mention of SARS. It’s a topic that weighs heavy on our hearts and minds and one that we cannot be rid of in our waking moments because we know that there’s an invisible enemy out there that poses an eminent threat to our physical health. SARS is eroding our social interactions and endangering our psychological health. SARS patients and their relatives are being isolated and alienated by quarantine measures. Others under any sort of suspicion, founded or not, are being ostracized by the uninfected community, who do not want to risk contraction. People are so paralyzed by fear of the unknown, it seems that they have forgotten that at any time, anyone of us could fall victim to this frightening disease. We are all at risk.

We have already seen how one person’s lack of social responsibility or understanding of the virus can quickly and unwittingly put others at risk. Accepting our social responsibility is not negotiable. In the case of SARS, the simple actions of an individual can equally endanger or safeguard the health of others. It is important that we put aside our self-interests in thinking how our lives will be inconvenienced by quarantine measures for a few weeks or even months, when countless lives are at stake. We all have the power to fight this.

People have responded to SARS with hyper-vigilant, self-defensive measures, self-
imposed isolation, selfishness, distrust of others, a sense of hopelessness or worse yet complete denial. My concern is that we do not let SARS break our human spirit and hope, leading us into hopelessness and denial. We cannot let this virus defeat us. It is my strong desire to make some small contribution in the fight against SARS. Work needs to be done to reinforce our social responsibility and to heal the wounds of an alienated nation. We need to find a way for common citizens to make a difference in the fight against SARS.

I believe that it’s time for us to reach our to our neighbors, to extend our goodwill and support to the innocent victims of SARS, specifically, those under quarantine. So much focus has been on how to keep more people from getting infected. This has led to hostile divisions and distrust in the population. Ironically, much of the solution to this epidemic lies with those who are already infected. These people are our unsung heroes, sacrificing their freedom for the safety of others; they are now living in fear and uncertainty. In their desperate time of need we should give them our support, encouragement and above all, appreciation. The significance of their contributions to the fight against SARS should not be underestimated. And likewise, we should not underestimate the power of positive reinforcement, simple understanding and personalized human contact.

I would like to give hope, meaning and purpose to quarantined patients by offering words of encouragement and appreciation in the form of a daily phone call or card. My vision is that either 1) a nation wide campaign be launched, mobilizing the entire population or that 2) a task force of volunteers be formed to participate in such an effort. The purpose of the task force would be simple and specific: to deliver affirming, positive messages of acknowledgement and appreciation to people under quarantine, whose actions, have saved our lives and the lives of so many others. This is the key element- that volunteers are the ones who initiate contact with the sole purpose of encouraging those under quarantine. The volunteers will not be expected or allowed to counsel SARS patients- that is a matter best left to mental health professionals or SARS telephone hotline, nor will volunteers be expected to offer other forms personal assistance. If the need arises, perhaps referrals to other volunteer organizations offering personal assistance services could be provided if needed.

In practicality, I’m not really sure how feasible this project really is, especially with regard to obtaining personal phone numbers or even addresses. And of course there’s the obstacle of language; my language proficiency is not strong enough, especially not in written form. At least, I’m sure that somehow I could get letters or cards of encouragement and support mailed to hospitals or centers where SARS patients are being quarantined.

I just had a great idea! I know that among my advanced English students - that some have done charitable work with orphanages and nursing homes… I’m going to ask them to lend me a hand with this project. I think that we can start drafting some Chinese language form letters for people to sign as a show of support, or they (the letters) can serve as a model for people to write their own letters, or perhaps we can even make cards or a large card for several students to sign.

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