Dropping out of my Master’s program has quite possibly been one of the best things I have done for myself. As I approach the two-year anniversary of making that crucial decision, it freed me from expectation and faith in something that made no promises for anyone who sacrificed their time and money in hopes of living out their dreams. More importantly, it humbled me and spared me from humiliation, because I had approached it with a lack of maturity. I had mistakenly assumed that by theoretically liaising with like-minded individuals in the form of my colleagues and professors, I would somehow magically be qualified to save the world after having two initials appear after my name in my e-mail signature.
What I was left with was a monumental task that seemed daunting, but doable, because I was left to prove my creativity could surpass privilege and status with my writing and camera. It was upon going overseas that I realized the real resource I had that has taken me farther than any skill, personal connection, degree, or salary has been kindness. Kindness is universally appreciated, and is something that can not be faked. It may be hard to see because it seems so rare in the age of increasing the size of your professional network rather than building quality relationships, but when the ulterior motive is only to infect others with that inner harmony as well, it makes waves in the sea of life.
Three simple acts of kindness that have propelled me to where I am now: 1) connecting a sponsored child in Indonesia to her sponsor from America through video, 2) teaching a Sri Lankan war widow a mudra (sacred hand gesture) that calms people and brings peace in times of sadness, and 3) donating blood to a children’s hospital in Cambodia.
The details of each story aren’t going to be repeated here (you can see the relevant links), but the impact and results from simply wanting to help out with something normally I and most others take for granted or unintentionally overlook. The end result is the same: kindness changes everything. As my grandmother said:
You have chosen between being kind and right, and you have always chosen kind: then you are always right. Your giving to the world has made a difference to the people who can see it. Those who cannot not see it; will never see it. Keep being yourself and doing what makes you happy. I love who you are and you will always be in my heart.
When I dropped out of my Master’s program, I was still left with three months in Jakarta, Indonesia for my internship and a few hundred dollars. I would have had more before leaving, but prior to departure, a friend of mine was out of money and luck, as her father ran out of medication for his Alzheimer’s condition, and I gave her $500 to pay for that and so that she and her parents could afford to eat and live that month. This would be a fourth act kindness, but it’s simply additional background information to what happened before leaving. I went to Indonesia taking a big risk because I didn’t know what awaited me after the three months in Jakarta, but I made a promise to a man I met working in a health supplement store in San Diego that I would deliver his message to a child he was sponsoring.
Act One: From California to Indonesia
In the Spring of 2012, I met David in San Diego, California. David somehow felt comfortable enough to share himself around me when I regularly visited his store, and in the course of conversation, I learned he sponsored Sisilia through ChildFund, the organization I had won a summer internship with in Indonesia. I offered to take a video of him and if I had a chance to meet his sponsored child, I’d show it to her. What happened as you can see in the above picture was that I did indeed meet her and recorded a video of the act: it was Sisilia’s first time seeing David and hearing his voice. More people were inspired by this and signed up to sponsor children, and upon creation of this video, it led to me being awarded a one-year contract extension with ChildFund in their regional headquarters in Bangkok, Thailand after I finished my time in Indonesia, and then sent to other projects in various countries.
Act Two: Sri Lanka
The first place I was sent after moving to Bangkok was Sri Lanka. At the time, I spoke no Tamil or Sinhalese, and was just an intern with a camera and creativity. One of the women in the employment and life skills training projects was affected by the war. She had an emotional moment during our interview, and at that point, I wished I could do something to help ease her sadness. Then I remembered a mudra my guru once taught me, the shankh mudra, which I have used whenever I wanted a hug. To do this is to feel like you are hugging yourself when you position your fingers and hold it to your heart.
I taught it to her and explained it through the translator, as well as conveying how I wished I could do more, but it was all I had. When we left, I realized I left my notebook, and upon returning, I saw the woman was teaching everyone in the center how to do it as well. From this moment on, after having done two acts of kindness in Indonesia and in Sri Lanka, I vowed to make it a point to make at least one significant act of kindness, big or small, in every country I travel to.
Act Three: Donating Blood to a Children’s Hospital in Cambodia
In April of 2013, I traveled to Siem Reap, Cambodia for Khmer New Year, also the same time as Thai New Year. I was only going to go for just under a week as a break from Bangkok. Being in Thailand offered me that opportunity to travel to nearby locations that just a year prior, were an ocean away and cost an arm and a leg to afford to fly out to see with my meager savings as a student.
Because I was going to be in Cambodia for under a week and not on assignment as I was in prior places, I still wanted to find a good way to make an impact, and decided I would donate blood at the children’s hospital. At my hostel, I met three girls who heard of my personal pledge to make a difference in every country I went. Inspired, they joined me and donated blood as well. It is something greatly needed, and not only did I give my blood, but converted three people into the simple practice of paying kindness forward.
Not long after finishing my internship in Thailand, a position opened up at–the children’s hospital. I applied, and by a wonderful instance of luck and karmic reward, I got the job and went back in August. I told them about my prior visit and donating blood, and upon arrival–discovered I donated blood at the other children’s hospital. Whoops. But as many development organizations know, collaboration, not competition, is the key to making positive change. At the very least, they knew I was sincere about helping people, and even if this story would have been perfect had I donated blood at the hospital I was employed by, these several acts have proven to me that by going all out with kindness, the universe adjusts to allow you to continue.
Wherever life has taken me, I have always found an opportunity to add more kindness instead of going the easy route of selfishness, anger, and fear–a condition common for people. The more I do it, the more it feels right and life just seems to be brighter, happier, and full of purpose knowing that I can see the genuine appreciation for it and impact small and large acts do.
A friend in America decided to join the Peace Corps because of these stories. Another friend joined me on Kiva to lend and help people through microfinance. More friends are asking me for help in volunteer tourism. Simply put: investing in kindness will always yield big returns, and no matter how people do it, there will always be opportunities to choose to be kind, whether you have a formal opportunity, position, or job title that allows this or not, it will come. This is how I choose to live, and regardless of what has happened to me or what could be less beneficial, I choose to promote kindness.