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Beyond the Wards Canada

Beyond the Wards Canada is an initiative founded by a few students in Toronto who wanted to give back during the pandemic by sharing messages of thanks and positivity to under-recognized essential workers. We had the opportunity to ask them a few questions!

From what we’ve learned, three of you co-founded Beyond the Wards. Could you tell us a bit about yourselves?

We've known each other and became friends during high school, but are drastically different people with varying interests and ambitions. Despite our differences and despite the fact we study separate degrees in university, the varied approaches we take in problem solving and the diversity of thought each of us bring to this initiative only makes us stronger as a team. Besides that, we all have one thing in common: wanting to use our skills and experience to better the world around us. Beyond all of our commitments and university work, we’re just a trio of friends who love to have a good laugh, eat exorbitant amounts of food and have hectic sleep schedules.

What a wonderful initiative you’ve come up with to help show appreciation for under-recognized essential workers. What led to this idea?

We chose to create Beyond the Wards because we noticed crucial frontline workers, such as those working in grocery stores, providing janitorial support, or driving our buses, haven’t been receiving the same amount of recognition as healthcare workers have at the height of the pandemic. So, in line with our name, we wanted to encourage people to look beyond the hospital wards and realize the major, positive impact of critical workers in our day-to-day lives. While healthcare workers were rightfully praised in the Spring, we wanted to ensure Canadians also recognized the lengths everyday heroes go in order to keep us safe and healthy—not just in the context of a pandemic, but beyond it as well. 

Our mission is based on the importance of kindness and the amazing effects it can have on our mental health, both by demonstrating kindness and by being on the receiving end of it. Since kindness can enhance our mood, reduce feelings of anxiety, and minimize the physical effects of stress, we thought we could harness its power to help under-recognized essential workers feel loved and supported in these incredibly difficult times. 

Have there been any challenges throughout your work on this project?

One of the biggest challenges we had was the fact that we were starting something new completely from scratch. Gaining footing on social media platforms and reaching a wide audience was a slow, but gradual process. None of the co-founders had any experience with this sort of project, but with the three of us combined and a lot of passion for this cause, we were able to create and establish a strong foundation. Results and engagement didn’t materialize instantly, but Beyond The Wards gradually built momentum as we continued to push forward on our website and social platforms. We’re so happy to have already touched the lives of so many frontline heroes! :) 

What has been a highlight of Beyond the Wards for you so far?

One of the highlights has definitely been being able to recruit and connect with other compassionate and like-minded youth. Our team started with a few students from Toronto and now includes youth all across Canada! It’s incredibly inspiring that despite all of our diverse backgrounds and differences, even amongst the most uncertain and difficult of times, we’ve been able to come together through our shared appreciation and love for our frontline workers. It’s a grand demonstration of the fact that we are all in this together, and we’re here to support one another. It’s even more exciting when we are coming together in a way that encourages our creative expression; it can be both fun and therapeutic to create messages for essential workers, as well as beneficial and uplifting for the essential workers to receive the messages of kindness, love, and appreciation.

The most rewarding part of the initiative so far is being able to read the wonderful reactions we’ve received from those that have received our messages. There’s nothing better than knowing that you can make people feel appreciated and seen—and we have every intention to ensure many more under-recognized essential workers get the attention they deserve in the future.

What have been some of your favourite ways to look after your mental health throughout this pandemic?

Vivid: Mental health is so important—especially now, when it’s much harder to stay connected with others. Sometimes I just take a “break day” where I go a little easier on myself, because it's ok not to be ok, and we all have those days! I personally like to binge watch Netflix shows, K-dramas, or read to de-stress. And of course, it goes without saying that I’m snacking on my stash of chocolates at the same time. :)  

Matthew: Like Vivid, I definitely think it's super important to leave time to decompress! It's so easy these days to become consumed in news, social media, and everyday commitments—it seems like there are always things to do or problems to pay attention to! And my mental health issues are so easily worsened and affected by difficult situations, especially during a global pandemic. When I feel overwhelmed, I find going for long walks outside, especially by water or in nature, can be super calming. Besides that, getting enough rest, deep breathing, drinking green tea, and making sure I don't drown in coffee throughout the day helps too! 

Catherine: Scheduling in time for myself to unwind, in whatever way I feel is most needed in the moment, is so helpful for maintaining my mental health. Whether it’s watching my favourite show, going out for a walk, or just taking a nap to re-energize my body and mind, it’s important to have time—or, rather, make time—for myself to do anything but work. Something else that’s been particularly helpful, especially in the current climate of the world when negativity can be overwhelming, is to remind myself that I’m not alone and that my feelings are valid. For example, I’m certainly not the only one affected by the pandemic, but at the same time, just because someone else may seem to have it harder than I, doesn’t mean I don’t also have it difficult sometimes, nor does it mean that I don’t also deserve to feel upset. My feelings are valid, and so are yours! 

If someone wanted to get involved with Beyond the Wards, how could they do so?

It’s really easy to get involved! We encourage anyone and everyone to submit their own message of kindness through the submission form on our website, which will be sent directly to the essential workers they are addressed to. You can find the full list of everyday heroes on our website as well. If you would like to get involved on our national team, please apply through our application form. We welcome anyone who has an interest in writing, creating creative content, or advocacy and spreading awareness! As long as you have a passion for supporting our frontline heroes, no experience is necessary for this remote volunteering opportunity. 

To stay in touch, follow us on Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn!

Photo by Vivid Ma, Co-founder of Beyond the Wards Canada