Journal » The Hands that Heal

Hand medals in progress

The Hands that Heal

“While we are all watching caregivers, nurses, and doctors giving all they can to our communities, risking their lives for us, we want to find a way to honor them. They should all get a medal, a votive offering given in gratitude or devotion. At some point this crisis will end and there will be a moment when we can thank them for all they do. We propose to present as many health workers as we can with a medal based on a traditional ex-voto, also to mark the moment when we can see a future.”

The Hand Medal Project, conceived of by artists Iris Eichenberg and Jimena Rios, honors healthcare workers around the world for their service and sacrifice during the pandemic. The project’s idea was inspired by ex-votos—a small devotional object given in fulfillment of a vow or in gratitude or devotion.

Anyone with a jeweler’s saw and the willingness to cut out tiny hands, could register. Each participant was sent a template to follow. While craftsmanship was important, the idea was not to unnecessarily embellish the hands, but to cut as many as you were able. The project spread, and soon some two thousand participants were making hand medals. You can follow their journey on Instagram, where they share finished medals and work in progress, as well as updates about the eventual distribution of the medals.

Hand Medal Project world map
Numbers indicate Hand Keepers, a person assigned to groups of jewelers who collected finished medals.

Groups of jewelers are assigned a Hand Keeper, an individual who collects finished medals from jewelers. Hand Keepers will then transfer the medals to a Hand Giver, someone connected to the healthcare community, to distribute to nearby healthcare workers on November 8, 2020.

Each medal is affixed with a small ribbon and safety pin, and stamped or etched with the participant’s ID number, allowing the healthcare to discover who made the medal.

When I first learned about this project, infections were spreading rapidly and hospitals were overwhelmed. I recall thinking that by the October due date for the medals, things surely would be under control. But now we see spikes and second waves, and healthcare workers are still experiencing overwhelm in many places.

Nothing can quite make up for the grief, long hours, physical exhaustion and frustration felt by so many of these essential workers, many of whom are working in very challenging conditions. But I hope the medals will be a tiny reminder of how each healthcare worker is appreciated and remembered for shepherding millions through this crisis.

And thanks to the Hand Medal Project for giving me something to focus on during these times and connecting me to a far-flung community.


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