17 October 2020

Compassion in the Age of COVID

By Matt Alderton
Photography by Poneselvan Thanapal

In the 14th century, something ugly happened. And then, something beautiful.

In 1347, 12 Genoese trading ships travelling from Crimea docked in Sicily. There, rodent stowaways disembarked, carrying a calamitous cargo into Europe: fleas infected with bubonic plague. The disease, also known as the Black Death, spread far and fast, giving those who contracted it painful, swollen lymph nodes along with fever, chills, vomiting, and diarrhea. Within five years, more than 20 million people — nearly a third of Europe’s population at the time — died from the ruinous disease.

Mass quarantines eventually stopped the plague’s spread. When they did, illness turned into inspiration. Determined to live full lives, survivors painted immortal canvases, carved spectacular statues, composed mirthful music, wrote literary masterpieces and made illuminating scientific discoveries. Instead of contagion, humanity was spreading creativity.

Centuries after the Dark Ages and subsequent Renaissance, the world is once again facing pestilence. In just six months, the devastating pandemic, COVID-19 has infected more than 31 million people in over 200 countries, killing more than 1 million people.

Once again, tragedy is spawning triumph. Only this time, the byproduct isn’t creativity. Rather, it’s compassion. Here, meet four changemakers from around the globe who have written their own prescription for COVID-19: goodwill.

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Matt Alderton

Contributor (he/him)

Matt Alderton is a freelance journalist who writes regularly about social justice, sustainability and humanitarianism. A writer and reporter for nearly two decades, he has covered everything from sustainable housing, smart cities and immigration to marriage equality, disability rights and the criminalization of mental health. Matt has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism and a master’s degree in creative writing, also from Northwestern. Originally from Denver, which boasts 300 days of sunshine a year, he now resides in Chicago, which boasts three.


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