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Posts Tagged ‘kindness’

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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Lately, there have been so many stories about kindhearted people tucked in among the opposite kind of headline that, at this rate, if I wait another week there will be too many for one blog post. A good problem to have, of course, but I think I’ll just go ahead and give you what I’ve collected so far.

First there was the woman who went to the Toys R Us in Bellingham and paid off all the layaway plans. Then there was the woman who did the same thing in another Massachusetts town.

Next was the widow who put her engagement ring and wedding ring in a red Salvation Army bucket hoping that, if someone bought them, the charity would receive $20,000. Another widow did just that. She also put out the word that she would like to give the rings back to the first widow.

On Cape Cod, a man believed to be an emissary of a grateful resident has been showing up in fast-food restaurants, asking the manager how many people work there, and dolling out that number of $100 bills. All those generous souls are anonymous.

If you’re not full to bursting yet, how about the homeless man in Preston, UK, who gave a student his last $3 to get a taxi after she lost her money? And how about the student herself, who then organized her friends for on overnight on the streets and raised over £20,000? Now the homeless man is getting an apartment and advising on ways to help the nonprofits that had helped him.

Sam Rkaina at the Mirror writes, “A campaign to raise money for a homeless man has raised an incredible £21,000 after it went viral. Dominique Harrison-Bentzen set up the appeal for an ‘incredibly kind’ homeless man called Robbie who offered her £3 for a taxi home when she lost her bank card on a night out.

“She set up a fundraising page to pay for a deposit on a flat for him and yesterday took part in a 24 hour sleep-out on the streets of Preston. The 22-year-old says she has been overwhelmed by the support from the public after the fundraising target was completely smashed.” More on that story here.

Photo: The Mirror
Dominique, second from left, and friends experiencing a night of homelessness to raise funds.

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Around the country, generous people have been “paying it forward”– doing a good deed for someone else that was done for them.

Only in this case, it’s more backward than forward because it involves paying for whatever the person behind you at the drive-thru has ordered. It’s become surprisingly widespread, according to Kate Murphy, writing at the NY Times today.

“If you place an order at the Chick-fil-A drive-through off Highway 46 in New Braunfels, Tex., it’s not unusual for the driver of the car in front of you to pay for your meal in the time it took you to holler into the intercom and pull around for pickup. …

“You could chalk it up to Southern hospitality or small town charm. But it’s just as likely the preceding car will pick up your tab at a Dunkin’ Donuts drive-through in Detroit or a McDonald’s drive-through in Fargo, N.D. Drive-through generosity is happening across America and parts of Canada, sometimes resulting in unbroken chains of hundreds of cars paying in turn for the person behind them.

“Perhaps the largest outbreak of drive-through generosity occurred last December at a Tim Hortons in Winnipeg, Manitoba, when 228 consecutive cars paid it forward. A string of 67 cars paid it forward in April at a Chick-fil-A in Houston. And then a Heav’nly Donuts location in Amesbury, Mass., had a good-will train of 55 cars last July.” More.

I love the idea, but I think I missed something. Do you give the order taker an extra $20 and get the change when you pick up your meal at the next window? Or does the cost of the stranger’s meal have to go on your credit or debit card?

Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Drive-thru food outlet

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When Suzanne lived in San Francisco, she told me about a guy in the Tenderloin district who wanted to do something for the homeless people who were his neighbors. He would stop and talk to people, and eventually he decided to hand out new socks, because that was what was needed. Small. Not solving any underlying problems. Just making someone feel noticed.

Recently I did a web search to see if I could figure out who the guy was and write a blog post. I found someone in San Francsico who started doing similar small kindnesses, but I’m not sure it’s the same guy. (If you know, please tell me.)

The person I discovered in my search is the founder of A Good Idea. He and others who have joined him do random things that connect them with strangers in a way that is sometimes greeted with suspicion, sometimes with delight. (It’s San Francisco after all. People are ready to be surprised.) Volunteers may distribute fruit, cookies, hugs, or services.

“Jared Paul’s life changed after he chose meaning over money. He abandoned a successful six-figure sales career and started a nonprofit organization, A Good Idea, in the summer of 2008.

“ ‘In April of 2008, I went through a life transformation: The more money I made, the more stressed I became, the more my passions began to fade, and the more I stopped dreaming,’ says Paul, 33, who had flourished in a variety of sales positions for nearly 10 years.

“Amid dissatisfaction with his job and his personal life, Paul decided to dedicate himself to making a difference. So he reached out to people via Facebook and Craigslist and began an informal discussion group that met at the Red Vic Peace Café in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury neighborhood. The meetings led to the birth of A Good Idea (AGI).

“ ‘A Good Idea is a vehicle for social change that connects people in need with people who want to help,’ explains Paul.

“ ‘One of our first events was called Intentional Acts of Kindness, where we would do acts of kindness to complete strangers,’ Paul recalls. ‘When the San Francisco Chronicle decided to do a news piece, we received over 250 e-mails from people who were inspired and wanted to be part of A Good Idea. That’s when things really took off.’ ” Read more.

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