When she is not studying or in class, Tala Farah enjoys volunteering at UNC Hospitals, where she delivers mail and spends time with patients.
Her efforts have become even more meaningful during the pandemic with many patients spending more time alone. When Farah helps deliver mail to rooms, she sees how even the simple gesture of sending a letter could go a long way to lifting people’s spirits.
“Communication was immediately cutoff — at least face-to-face,” she said. “That was definitely felt. I’d get to go in and go to patients’ rooms and see them to give them the flowers and mail. You could see how impactful it was for them to just get a piece of paper. They’d get so excited and say, ‘Oh my God. Somebody sent me something!'”
Those experiences rooted an idea in Farah and fellow classmate Sydney Olson ’21, and last fall, the two Tar Heels founded Letters from Rameses. The new student group organizes students to write cards and letters for patients in the hospital.
“The whole purpose behind the club is to put a smile on people’s faces,” said Farah, a senior majoring in neuroscience. “Just to have that little impact on people is what Letters from Rameses is all about. It’s just to give them that feeling that we care about them, and we’re going to give them a simple message of hope that they can get through whatever they’re going through.”
Farah and Olson started by writing cards on their own but realized they could make a greater impact and reach more patients by inviting more students into their project and creating a club. This semester, more than 100 Carolina students are helping create 70 letters for patients each month.
Reghan Flores was an early member of the group and serves as the vice-president this year. She remembers how excited she was to receive cards from her grandparents as a kid, so the idea behind Letters from Rameses immediately resonated with her.
“I saw that I could help someone through letter writing because I’ve seen the impact that letters can have on people,” said Flores, a Carolina junior. “Someone has made the attempt to write to you. They want to tell you something, and a lot can be conveyed through letters. It’s kind of a forgotten art because people don’t do it as much.”
Letters from Rameses asks that members write three letters during the semester. The club provides templates to help guide students, but Flores likes to add her own personal touches to her letters and find a way to engage patients with a conversation from afar.
“I’m really trying to say, ‘How’s your day going?'” she said. “It’s kind of like having a conversation so they can reply to themselves in their head, even if they can’t actually send it. They have these questions to respond to and feel like they’re actually having a conversation, even though their visitors might be limited.”
Communicating and meeting new people was what Flores missed most during the pandemic and remote learning, and Letters from Rameses brought that engagement back. Writing letters has also become a welcomed distraction from the busy college life.
“It’s nice to have that outlet to be able to talk to someone even when I might feel like I’m busy with my own life,” she said. “It’s a time to detach from the chaos of work, school and deadlines. I’m just able to be in that moment and have that time to talk to someone that you’ve never met before.”
Once Flores and her fellow Letters from Rameses members seal their letters for the month, Farah works with volunteer coordinators at UNC Hospitals to deliver them. The letters are delivered randomly to various floors, allowing the group to reach all kinds of patients, from those undergoing chemotherapy to kids in the Children’s Hospital.
Delivery day is Farah’s favorite part of the project.
“It’s just seeing the smile on their faces and just how much of an impact a piece of paper can have on a patient,” she said. “They’re just like, ‘Someone’s in my room! I see a person!’ It’s the greatest feeling in the world. So just being able to do that with a club at Carolina has been the greatest highlight for me.”