On April 28, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro answered “so what” when asked about the rising Covid-19 death toll in Brazil. His nonchalance is reminiscent of the quip, often attributed to Soviet dictator Josef Stalin, that “one death is a tragedy, but 1 million deaths is a statistic.” As confirmed coronavirus deaths reach five figures, journalists face a challenge not to let the victims — who leave behind families and friends — be left as mere statistics on a growing casualty list.
With this in mind, a group of volunteer journalists decided to join forces and try to tell the stories behind each number.
The Inumeráveis project (innumerable) came together as a voluntary initiative proposed by social entrepreneur Rogério Oliveira and artist Edson Pavoni, as an attempt to build a digital memorial for the Brazilian victims of the pandemic. The aim is to provide a space for families to celebrate the lives of their loved ones, as journalist and volunteer Alana Rizzo describes.
“It started in an organic way. The platform is quite simple because we wanted to focus on the stories. We want to show that these people are not statistics. And it felt really emotional to see people offering as volunteers to listen to the stories and the testimonies by the families,” she said in an interview with The Brazilian Report.
Officially launched on April 30, Inumeráveis became a collective memorial gathering together stories from all over the country, as well as volunteers — most of whom are journalists or journalism students, who write obituaries based on information provided by friends and relatives of victims.
Stories like Bruno’s, a 32-year-old nurse, and proud father of two girls. Or Alexandra’s, the 91-year-old daughter of Russian immigrants who became a researcher and gifted cook.
“I was very emotional when writing the story of Edgard and Eunice, a couple that lived together for 40 years and died days apart. Almost together, in a way. There’s also Frederic, a 32-year-old doctor that died while treating people. In hard times like these, people can know about the story of these people, and how they impacted those around them,” Ms. Rizzo remembers.
As a volunteer initiative, they don’t have the formal support of any institution. Still, the plan is to galvanize the existing state-focused actions around Brazil to become something more significant. Moreover, the project aims at expanding its reach through accepting testimonies submitted by audio files — that will later be transcripted. While at the moment there’s no intention to create a multimedia platform, such a measure could make the Inumeráveis project more accessible.
Eventually, says Ms. Rizzo, Inumeráveis could even become a physical installation.
Through clicking a button, people can show support for the cause, adding the message “I feel connected to this story.”
The stages of grief
As we’ve previously reported in our Covid-19 Live Blog, Brazilian cities have prepared to deal with the tragic increase in burials as a result of the pandemic. In most cities, all funerals can only last one hour, with only ten persons in attendance, to avoid agglomerations, and the coffins of suspected or confirmed Covid-19 victims must be sealed. São Paulo, for instance, has reinforced the purchase of coffins and hired more professionals to open the graves.
But in cities such as Manaus, the collapse of the healthcare system has caused a strain in the funeral system. Only five people are allowed to attend funerals, while corpses were stored in containers and collective graves were being dug. In Belém, another hard-hit area in northern Brazil, the flawed process of identification is leading families to open the sealed coffins, risking contamination, to make sure they are burying the right person. And sometimes, they are not.
In this context, families are being deprived of closure — a void Inumeráveis also aims to help fulfill. “We would like to provide an answer to the pain these families are going through. The process of grieving is a very lonely one — even more so now. All passage rituals changed amid the pandemic, as you don’t have funerals like before. So this is a way to help with collective grieving,” said Mr. Rizzo.
Unfortunately, we can’t name all Brazilian Covid-19 victims. But we shall name those behind Inumeráveis, as a way of showing appreciation for their initiative.
Rogério Oliveira, Rogério Zé, Alana Rizzo, Guilherme Bullejos, Gabriela Veiga, Giovana Madalosso, Rayane Urani, Jonathan Querubina, Ticiana Werneck, Irion Martins, Phydia de Athayde, Flávia Campos, Carolina Caires, Priscilla Fernandes, Bianca Ramos, Samara Lopes, Edson Lira, Gabriel Yudi Gati Isii, Chico Bicudo, Amanda Queiros Gondim Bezerra, Laura Capanema, Ana Clara Costa, Malu Marinho, Cintia Honorato de Santana, Carolina Lenoir, Marcia Ohlson, Daniela Buono, Didi Ribeiro, Yara Affonso, and Maria Clara Paes.