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Posts Tagged ‘kindness’

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Photo: Suzanne Kreiter/Globe staff
Jen Andonian and Matt Shearer, both epidemiologists, recently got married at Massachusetts General Hospital.

Where there’s a will, there’s a way. Many group events are being put off because of the war against coronavirus, but recently I’ve been learning how weddings, Passover feasts, funerals, conferences, and the like are probably managed in other kinds of war.

Here are two wedding stories from the Boston Globe.

Liz Kowalczyk reports on Jen Andonian and Matt Shearer, who “had it all planned: her burgundy floral dress, his matching checked tie. They live in Cambridge, but chose Ann Arbor, Mich., where they met as graduate students, for their simple courthouse wedding ceremony in March with immediate family. A reception for 75 guests would follow the next day at her parents’ lakeside restaurant.

“Then the fast-moving coronavirus began spreading through the world — and the United States. Andonian and Shearer, both epidemiologists on the frontlines of COVID-19 — she at Massachusetts General Hospital, he at Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security — knew they could not ignore the risk of a large celebration. …

“When she told her coworkers at the MGH Center for Disaster Medicine the next day, a colleague joked: What about just getting married at the hospital? Her co-workers turned the offhand remark into an actual plan, executed in the midst of exhausting 12-hour workdays.

During quick breaks from setting up coronavirus testing sites and expanding intensive-care units, team members ordered flowers and vanilla cupcakes and devised a music playlist. Nurse Eileen Searle applied for a one-day state certificate to perform a marriage ceremony. …

“On Friday, Andonian, 30, and Shearer, 36, were married before a small group of disaster medicine colleagues, all wearing surgical masks and sitting six feet apart to prevent the spread of germs, as the sun streamed in from the windows high in the light-blue dome. It was a welcome but brief break amid the relentless arrival of patients ill with a relentless virus; the number of patients sick enough with COVID-19 to be admitted to Mass. General had more than doubled over the course of the week, to 61 on [March 27] alone.

” ‘This may not have been the wedding you wanted, but it is clearly the wedding MGH needed,’ began Searle, whose job includes training nurses to properly put on protective gear. ‘Thank you.’ …

“When they told their families about the plan to marry at the hospital, Andonian said they had mixed feelings. ‘Everyone was sad, but after seven years, they were ready for us to get married,” she said. …

“The couple arrived about 15 minutes before the ceremony was scheduled to begin at 11 a.m., walking past a long table outside the Ether Dome set with cupcakes to share, a cake for them to take home, tiny colorful containers of bubbles, and a gift bag hiding a bottle of champagne. ..

“As Andonian waited in the hallway, Shearer stood between a white plaster statue of Apollo and a glass case containing an Egyptian mummy, part of a small collection of artifacts [in the MGH museum].

” ‘You ready?’ Searle asked.

” ‘Let’s do it,’ he said.” More.

Another Globe story detailed how a photographer that a couple had never met was determined to put together all the traditional pieces so that a soldier could “elope.”

Megan Johnson writes of bride Victoria Pass, “ ‘If you still want to get married, I definitely want to get married,’ said Victoria. ‘We gotta figure this out.’

“The couple decided they’d wed at Chicopee City Hall. But with none of their family and friends in the area, Victoria wanted to have a photographer capture the moment. They started making phone calls, and stumbled upon Dani Klein-Williams, a Northampton-based photographer.

‘They said they were just planning a very quick, no-frills elopement at Chicopee City Hall,’ said Klein-Williams. ‘I was like, “Okay, can you give me two hours? I’m gonna put something even more spectacular together for you.” ‘

“Klein-Williams called Blantyre, the Tudor-style Relais & Châteaux property in Lenox, Mass. … Within two hours, she got approval from Blantyre, which was already shut down for their annual winter closure. …

“Next, Klein-Williams called her favorite wedding planner, Tara Consolati, who also happens to be ordained. Though she had never performed a ceremony before, she was on board to officiate. Carolyn Valenti, a Berkshires-based florist, offered up a blend of snapdragons, hyacinth, and other blooms. ‘She said, “I have all these gorgeous flowers and they’re just going to rot and die,” ‘ said Klein-Williams.

By the end of the conversation, she discovered that Valenti had a house guest who could bake. Without her baking equipment on hand, however, they dumped the contents of an oversize can of tomatoes, sterilized the can, and used that as a frame for a small wedding cake, topped with berries and flowers.

“[Klein-Williams next] … reached out to Mike Murray of Summer Wind Wedding Films, who volunteered to live stream the event, so Victoria and Jerrod’s family and friends could follow along.” More.

Oh, the kindness of strangers!

Photo: Dani Klein-Williams
Victoria and Jarrod Pass eloped in the Berkshires after having to cancel their 60-guest wedding in Las Vegas. A photographer they hadn’t met, Dani Klein-Williams, was determined the couple should have all the traditional features of a wedding.

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Photo: Mevan Babakar
Years ago, a 5-year-old Kurdish refugee received a bike from a kind man in the Netherlands. Recently, Mevan Babakar, now an adult, tracked down the man known only as Egbert to express her lasting gratitude.

As we break our hearts over what is happening to today’s Kurdish refugees, it may be time for a story about the beauty that can occur when refugees are treated with respect and compassion. The story is also about the good side of social media.

Megan Specia reported at the New York Times in August, “Memories of a brand new bicycle — and the mystery man who gave it to her when she was a 5-year-old in a Dutch refugee center — have played out as vignettes in Mevan Babakar’s mind for most of her life.

“Ms. Babakar, now 29, said the generous gift from a man whose name she couldn’t remember had shaped her childhood. On Tuesday, she suddenly found herself reunited with the man whose face had flickered through her memories for more than two decades.

“And it all began on Twitter.

“ ‘I was a refugee for 5 yrs in the 90s and this man, who worked at a refugee camp near Zwolle in the Netherlands, out of the kindness of his own heart bought me a bike. My five year old heart exploded with joy,’ Ms. Babakar wrote in a post on Twitter, before pleading with the internet to help her track him down.

“The photo she shared — a fading snapshot of the man that her mother had kept — was among a handful of belongings they had from that time. When he gave her the bike, she said, it made a lasting impact.

‘I remember feeling so special. I remember thinking that this is such a big thing to receive, am I even worthy of this big thing?’ Ms. Babakar said. ‘This feeling kind of became the basis of my self-worth growing up.’

“She and her parents fled Iraq after Saddam Hussein’s brutal crackdown on the Kurdish population in the early 1990s, which included a gas attack on a village near their home. Their journey took them to Turkey, Azerbaijan and Russia — where her father stayed behind to work for the next four years — and eventually to the Netherlands. …

“Ms. Babakar took a sabbatical from her technology job in London this summer to retrace the journey, and visited Zwolle to spend a few days attempting to piece together her scattered impressions of her time there. … While there, she wrote a Twitter post that she described as a ‘last-ditch attempt’ to learn more about the man who had struck up a friendship with her and her mother, and gave her the bike.

“Within hours, Arjen van der Zee, who volunteers for a nonprofit news site in Zwolle, saw the photo and recognized the man.

“ ‘I looked at the picture and immediately knew this guy who I had worked with in my early twenties,’ said Mr. van der Zee. … Mr. van der Zee made contact with the man’s family on social media, and they put the two in touch.

“ ‘He started to tell me that he remembered Mevan and her mother,’ Mr. van der Zee said. ‘He said he always told his wife, if there were people he wanted to see again in his life it was Mevan and her mother.’

“They quickly scrambled to arrange a meeting with Ms. Babakar, who was due to travel back to London in the coming days. …

“ ‘He was, I guess, equally overwhelmed,’ Ms. Babakar said. ‘It was like seeing a family member that you hadn’t seen in a long time. It was really lovely.’ …

“Ms. Babakar was ‘incredibly humbled’ that her story had resonated with so many people around the world — both fellow refugees and those who just felt touched by the tale. … ‘I think it’s really easy for people to forget or to feel really powerless in the face of these big, abstract problems that we hear about all the time,’ she said. “It’s really a comfort to remember we are all very powerful in the way that we treat others. Especially in the small acts, we are powerful.’ ”

More here.

 

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Photo: Michael Falero
Seventh graders Daelyn Brown and Elaina Grady with their teacher, Justin Parmenter, at Waddell Language Academy in Charlotte, NC. After a traumatizing shooting at a nearby school, Parmenter launched an activity called Undercover Agents of Kindness. The results speak for themselves.

Like you and me, the folks of WNYC radio have noticed a certain lack of emphasis on kindness in the public sphere. Recognizing that there are always people reaching out to others somewhere, they decided to track down those obscure acts of kindness and feature them on the air. The station’s series taps the knowledge of listeners, who provide leads.

From WNYC: “We expect schools to prepare students by teaching them math and science and reading and writing. But what about teaching kindness?

“Justin Parmenter, who teaches Language Arts to seventh graders at Waddell Language Academy in Charlotte, North Carolina, decided to try. After a deadly school shooting at a nearby high school rocked the campus, he launched Undercover Agents of Kindness, an activity designed to gets his students out of their social bubbles and doing good deeds for each other.”

He writes at his blog: “I’d already been thinking a lot about the decline in positive interactions in our society and how we might more effectively teach character in our schools. … An adult simply talking about character or modelling positive behavior does not often lead to the changes we want to see in our children. There had to be a more impactful approach. …

“To increase interaction between students who did not normally talk to each other, I had students draw a random classmate’s name from a bowl.  After they drew names, I was shocked to hear some of them had no idea who the other person was –- even after being in class together for two months and in many cases attending the same school for years. Students had two weeks to perform an unexpected act of kindness for the other person and complete a written ‘mission report’ detailing what they did and how it went.

“Soon I began to see encouraging sticky notes on lockers in the hallway. Batches of homemade cupcakes and bags of leftover Halloween candy made their way onto desks in my classroom, as did origami, inspirational quotes, and hand-drawn portraits.  I heard compliments exchanged about all kinds of things. Students I’d never seen together started offering to carry each other’s books and musical instruments to the next class.  As the mission reports started trickling in, I read accounts of children studying together, inviting others to sit together at lunch, helping others put football equipment on at practice.

“However, it was my students’ reflections on the kindness activity that revealed its impact most.

Again and again they acknowledged that it was difficult and felt awkward to approach someone they didn’t know well and do something for them.  But almost every time they added that they were proud of themselves for doing it anyway and felt the power in brightening someone else’s day.”

WNYC interviewed the teacher with two of those students.

” ‘I always thought that people would just reject me if I ever started talking to them, but the truth is if you branch out, you’d be surprised at how nice people can be,’ Waddell student Daelyn Brown, 12, says of the kindness activity.

” ‘When someone does something kind for you or you do something kind for a person, it’s just like wow, I can do this so much and I can make so many friends and everybody would be so happy,’ adds fellow classmate Elaina Grady, 13.”

Listen to the radio report here. And please treat yourself to the wonderful student notes at the teacher’s blog, here.

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Photo: Daniella Cheslow/NPR
Jeff Britten stands in the doorway of the Baptist chapel in Haverfordwest, Wales, where he meets regularly with other members of his group sponsoring a refugee family. The name of the group is Croeso Hwlffordd, or Welcome Haverfordwest in Welsh.

What can I say? There are kind people everywhere. This story is about the efforts of residents of a small village in Wales to welcome refugee families from Syria. It’s not necessarily an easy thing to do — there are so many differences in experience and culture. But these people knew it was the right thing to do.

Daniella Cheslow writes at National Public Radio, “Back in February, Jeff Britten sent a description of Haverfordwest, his town of 13,000 people in southwestern Wales, to a family of Syrian refugees living in Jordan.

” ‘I ran around town and took pictures of the castle, the best bits, the River Cleddau,’ Britten says. ‘I produced a map which showed the location of the house, and that everything was in walking distance, supermarkets, schools, a mosque. It was all there for them.’

“He hoped the family, whom he contacted with the help of the Home Office, which controls U.K. immigration, would come live in Wales. At that stage, he knew little about them, only that they were Syrians recognized as refugees by the United Nations.

“Britten is 71 and retired from the pharmaceutical industry. The idea to reach out to Syrian refugees came in late 2016, when he heard that two other Welsh villages had adopted refugees from the country, and he called a meeting in a Baptist chapel in his own town to inspire his neighbors to do the same. …

“The refugees have come to Wales as part of a community sponsorship program that began in the U.K. in 2016. A group of British citizens can commit to providing refugees help with housing, navigating schools and doctors, language and the job search.

“Twenty-five Syrian refugee families have arrived and been settled so far in the U.K. via community sponsorship; of those, six families went to Wales. …

“In Haverfordwest, about 30 residents answered Britten’s call and signed up to sponsor the newcomers. … Jenny Blackmore had worked with Syrian refugees in the nearby town of Narberth and noticed that housing was often a stumbling block to fulfilling the government’s conditions. Landlords had to keep their homes open while the Home Office processed the resettlement application, and the government paid a lower rental rate than the market could offer.

“Blackmore’s mother had recently died and left her an inheritance. She invested it in a three-bedroom, two-story rowhouse in the center of Haverfordwest, with the aim of housing a refugee family.

” ‘I decided it would be a sort of fitting legacy, really, to my mum and dad’s memory, to do something — yeah, it’s an investment for my family, but it’s also a kind of investment in people’s lives,’ she says.”

More here.

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Photo: SWNS
Annis Lindkvist, right, and her younger sister, Emma Åhlström, with Jimmy Fraser, a homeless Scot they invited for Christmas in Sweden. 

I have never been sure how to react to someone who is homeless, but I have learned smiling is better than walking past, head down.

Mother Teresa said to smile. A woman who runs an excellent Rhode Island homeless agency told me she doesn’t give anyone money but talks to people and tries to see if she can help with a referral or something to eat. A formerly homeless veteran told me he always talks to veterans and tells them where to find veterans services. Once he took in a stranger overnight. Some people will buy a sandwich or a cup of coffee.

Last week as I was talking to an employee of a refugee agency, I became curious about how he was led to his current work. He said, “One day I stopped walking past people.”

He didn’t initially look for refugee work, but he landed there after launching his personal outreach to homeless people and a subsequent stint in Americorps. He used to talk to people on the New York City streets, asked what they needed and delivered food, socks, and as many of their needs as he could.

So many good people out there showing kindness one person at a time!

This Guardian story about a Swedish tourist in Scotland who not only befriended a homeless man but invited him for Christmas with her family (and sent him airfare) is really over the top.

Libby Brooks writes, “A homeless man from Edinburgh has described the ‘incredible act of kindness’ of a tourist who invited him to spend Christmas at her family home in Sweden.

“Jimmy Fraser was begging on George Street in the city centre when Annis Lindkvist and her sister Emma, from Sagmyra in central Sweden, asked him for directions.

“They struck up a friendship and swapped numbers at the end of the trip, staying in touch by text before Lindkvist offered to pay for his flights so he could spend a week with her family over the festive period.

“Fraser, who became homeless following his divorce 13 years ago, said: ‘It’s weird, I know. I was begging on George Street and these two women came up to me and the next thing I knew I was in Sweden. People promise you things all the time on the street but they never materialise.

” ‘But I thought I’m going to go for it as it’s once in a lifetime. I couldn’t believe it anyway at first. People tell you “see you tomorrow, I’ll get you a drink” and then nothing happens. But this did happen, actually, so it was really weird.’

“The 54-year-old former security guard, who went to an ice hockey match, Christmas markets and midnight mass with his host’s family and friends, told the BBC News website: ‘It was a beautiful experience.’ …

“Lindkvist described her own doubts about issuing such an open invitation to a stranger. ‘We give money to charity every month but we have never done anything like this before,’ she said. ‘There were friends and family who thought I was really crazy, but I just opened my home to him and said everything that is ours was his too.’

“The 37-year-old, who works with dementia sufferers, said she had invited Fraser back to stay with the family again over the Easter break, and that he was ‘part of the family now.’ ”

More here.

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Refugees continue to be on my mind, and I can’t resist any story about ordinary, kind-hearted people who recognize that no one would leave their homeland on a dangerous, uncertain journey unless they were desperate.

Sam Warner at Huck magazine (“Huck celebrates independent culture – people and movements that paddle against the flow”) has examples of kindness from the past year.

“Where European governments have largely failed, individuals across the continent have stepped up to help the plight of  refugees in any way they can. Here are some of them.

“Two Dresden writers showed solidarity with the refugees by painting ‘welcome’ in Arabic on the side of a train carriage in the city. …

“As migrants arrived in Munich, they were greeted with applause from Germans waiting for them at the train station. On top of that, they were given food, water and toys for the children and people also held up signs that said ‘welcome.’

“While refugees were stuck in Hungary, a convoy of Austrian volunteers called ‘refugeeconvoy’ crossed the border to distribute aid and help refugees cross through Western Europe.  …

“Numerous Icelandic residents have joined an initiative to help the refugees, started by writer Bryndis Bjorgvinsdottir. Her Facebook page Syria is Calling already has over 17,000 likes, using the slogan: ‘Just because it isn’t happening here doesn’t mean it isn’t happening.’

“It encourages the government to take in more refugees, whose numbers have been officially capped at 50. It has also inspired American initiative Open Homes, Open Hearts US – with Syrian refugees, which aims to raise awareness across the Atlantic and lobby the US government to accept more refugees. …

“Outside Budapest’s main railway station, a group of volunteers set up a projector and screened Tom and Jerry for refugee children to watch. They had been barricaded outside the station by authorities for 48 hours … .

“Refugee Phrasebook is an online collaborative project that aims to give important vocabulary for orientation that can be distributed to refugees. Its collaborative aspect means that experts can improve and update the material as it goes along. The project has phrases in 28 languages.”

More here.

Photo: Thomas Rassloff on Flickr

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Germans who open their homes to refugees don’t necessarily think of it as that big of a  deal.

Josie Le Blond writes for UNHCR Tracks, “Wael and Ibrahim sleep in their hosts’ home offices, while Homam and Samira are sharing an artist’s home studio. Mohamad has his own room, and Mecid’s large family has been given an entire house to call their own. …

“Ibrahim, a 29-year-old Syrian seeking asylum in Europe, has slotted easily into the lives of his German hosts, Maximilian and Carolin. The couple, both journalists, offered him their spare room when they heard he was having a hard time finding accommodations in Berlin.

“ ‘I met Max when he interviewed me for an article. He invited me to stay if I had any difficulties,’ says Ibrahim, who fled fighting last summer near his home in the Syrian port city of Latakia.

“After five months moving between emergency shelters in Germany, Ibrahim was told he had to find a hostel. But an administrative problem meant he quickly found himself without a roof over his head. Ibrahim remembered Maximilian’s offer.

“What we’re doing is the least we could do.”

“ ‘It’s unbelievable, really. If it weren’t for volunteers offering their places, many people might be out on the streets,’ says Maximilian, 29. ‘What we’re doing is the least we could do. We have a three room apartment – it’s easy.’ …

“Weeks later, Maximilian and Carolin now view Ibrahim just like any other lodger. ‘At this point I don’t see Ibrahim as a refugee that is staying at our place,’ says Maximilian. ‘He’s more like a flatmate who joins us for football every Monday.’ ”

More here.

Photo: UNHCR/Ivor Prickett
Max and Carolin offered their spare room to Ibrahim, an asylum-seeker from Syria, after he struggled to find somewhere to stay in Berlin.

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