Bounce Back Awards celebrates Stories of COVID

Bounce Back Challenges
4 min readSep 17, 2021

Recorded history is essential to understanding our past — but how will we remember 2020 and all the challenges it brought? For Veronica Kirin, the best answer is an ethnography of the pandemic and the changes it has brought to us all.

Kirin is an author, anthropologist, and entrepreneur who is using her unique background to create a record of people’s experiences during the pandemic, including the virus itself and the restrictions that change our lives and work. Kirin’s first book, Stories of Elders, recounted the experiences of those born before 1940 and the paradigm shifts of their lives. Early in the pandemic, queuing outside a grocery store near her home in Los Angeles and hearing helicopters overhead, Kirin thought of the stories she had recorded of her subjects experiencing the Great Depression and World War II. It was clear a paradigm shift was occurring.

Kirin is an anthropologist by trade, and knew this was an unprecedented opportunity to document a paradigm shift, the main focus of her research and training, in real time as it was happening. Often, such shifts are recorded and explained through statistics and numbers. Anthropology instead seeks to understand humanity through a bottom-up approach, and this is how Kirin has structured the interviews. Each subject is asked the same questions in order to follow the science that guides anthropology, but each subject is invited to share the experiences that speak the most to them, whether it’s related to their health, their relationships, their employment, or their experiences of lockdowns and other restrictions.

She launched the project leveraging her personal network, reaching out to friends and family starting in March 2020. Referrals and word of mouth have helped to grow the project which includes a website, TEDx Talk, and podcast where interviews are shared weekly. Kirin encourages her subjects to end their interviews with “messages to the future.” She finds this portion of the interview particularly empowering and inspiring.

Now based in Berlin, Germany, Kirin has conducted over 200 interviews, all via the video conferencing software that has enabled connection of all kinds during social distancing requirements. Subjects from over 50 countries have participated so far, touching on far-ranging experiences — from a newlywed who hosted a virtual wedding in Canada, to a student learning via intermittent wifi in the Philippines, to an attorney witnessing increased domestic violence in the US, to a medical worker on the front lines in Cyprus, everyone has a story to tell.

Kirin is eager to document the experiences of COVID-19 to help posterity gain a deeper understanding of the pandemic and the experiences of those who lived with it — something we are missing from the 1918 influenza pandemic. Kirin says this work also exposes the clear disparities around the world in health infrastructure, technological access, and the effects of variants like Delta.

Not all experiences have necessarily been negative. Kirin shares that many families experienced a stronger sense of connection during lockdown, and many individuals have realized they want to make major life changes they had written off in the past. Kirin focuses on how people’s perspectives have changed due to the pandemic and how technology has supported their efforts to connect with others and make sense of this turbulent time. Rather than focus solely on how we are ‘bouncing back’, Kirin has found a way to create a rewarding experience of documentation — that is cathartic for her subjects, her readers, and herself.

“Right now we’re on magma. It’s liquid and it’s unstable, but it will settle and solidify soon. It’s up to us what sort of role we want to have in the future as we settle into the post-COVID world,” Kirin says. She plans to wrap up her interviews in March 2022, paying tribute to the two-year anniversary of the start of the pandemic and mirroring the two years of the peak of the Spanish influenza pandemic a century ago.

Want to find out more about Stories of COVID? Check out the website and podcast here:

Bounce Back Challenges is a set of innovation challenges dedicated to stimulating a more resilient COVID-19 response in regards to the social, health, and economic effects of the pandemic. Find out more about the Challenges here and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

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