Every Day I Wake Up, Same Thing for Breakfast

This post is from my new blog about living and volunteering in Jamaica: http://yearofjamaica.wordpress.com

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“Why Jamaica?”

It’s usually asked with astonishment, accompanied by either eyes widening in alarm or head nodding in appreciation. And my standard answer is a flippant: “Why not?” From now on when I’m asked why I would choose to live in Jamaica for a year maybe I will direct people to this video instead. I mean, c’mon, who wouldn’t want to be intoxicated with hibiscus?

But the real reason is probably something much closer to the misheard lyrics of one of the best known Jamaican songs ever, Israelite by Desmond Dekker & The Aces (who knew the actual words were “Get up in the morning, slaving for bread, sir”? Then again, I doubt that will be the last time I totally mishear something due to a thick Jamaican accent.) To oversimplify things completely, I don’t want to wake up every morning and have the same thing for breakfast.

It’s scarily easy to get stuck in a rut, doing the same thing day in and day out, week in week out, year in year out. We start to forget not only all the incredible places and people and things that exist beyond our own little bubble, but also the incredible things that we ourselves are capable of, if only we can gather the courage to step out of our comfort zone.

No one wants to look back and realise they have simply lived a blur of groundhog days, each so monotonous they cannot be separated from the day before. Because that is not really living at all. I think Diane Ackerman said it best: “I don’t want to get to the end of my life and find that I have just lived the length of it. I want to have lived the width of it as well.”

So, in an effort to live the width of my own life, I’m going to volunteer in a remote village in Jamaica for a year, with no running water and sporadic electricity. I leave Sydney in three days and right now it feels like I’m not just stepping out of my comfort zone, but taking a running leap off the edge of it and crossing my fingers as I free fall. And along with all the other hundreds of unanswered questions, I have absolutely no idea what I will be eating for breakfast.

The Motivation to Give

Hello lovely Kindness Crusaders! I hope life is kindful. :)

I have had some inspiring experiences in Tanzania lately, and wanted to share a little of them with you. It’s funny how even though my time in Kigamboni seemed on the surface like a totally different adventure to the Year of Kindness, kindness was still a predominant theme. Perhaps it always will be. Even when travelling to one of the most far-away and culturally different places I can imagine, I learned first had how closely connected we are by the nature of giving.

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Singing songs with some children at KCC.

Some say it is our soul, some say it is our ego. Some believe in selfless good deeds but most are willing to admit that when they give (time, materials, money) it is because they get far more out of it than anyone they might be giving to. International volunteers here are Kigamboni say they can be more creative, more useful, more appreciated, more innovative than they ever were in paid jobs back home. The experience and knowledge they are gaining is far more valuable than money. Everyone I have spoken to so far – both locals and foreigners – agrees that Tanzanians generally do not have much motivation to volunteer. Understandably, their main priority is to ensure they get money to eat and provide for the families. And yet, at the Kigamboni Community Centre there are nearly thirty people volunteering their time, energy and skills. Many of them are at KCC seven days a week, often turning down paid work to fulfil their responsibilities at the centre. This means relying on friends, family or sponsorship for their basic needs.

Since I have been in Kigamboni, the most common words I have heard apart from “Mambo” (hello) are “Karibu sana”, meaning you are very welcome. The local people have welcomed me into their classrooms and their homes. I have met their families and been offered food and drink. They have readily shared their struggles and their hopes for a different future. In short, they do not hesitate to give of themselves in every way, to anyone that may need it -whether they are a homeless local child or a Western tourist. Everyone is welcome and everyone has something to contribute. So if volunteering is unusual here, what is it exactly that motivates this unwavering dedication to giving?

Sakina, one of the local volunteer teachers at KCC tells me “you must have volunteering in your heart, otherwise you will not live your life in the right way.” Although she is a full time volunteer with no paid income for herself, she dreams of opening a house for street children to live. For Nassoro, the Entertainment & Activities Director and one of the founding members of KCC, giving is about leaving a legacy worth being remembered by.  He says he could have used his acrobatic skills to make money for himself, but he prefers to dedicate his talents to the centre because it is the only way he will feel satisfied at the end of his life. “I could have ten cars and ten houses, but when I die no one will cry for me,” he explained. However, “If I do good things for my community, even when I am no longer alive it will be like I left a part of my body behind, because many people will remember me and the great things I did.”

The Business Director and handicrafts teacher, Fanuel, has a very different take on why it is worth giving his time and energy to volunteer at KCC. He believes that if they all continue to work hard for a good cause, they will eventually be recognised with wealth and fame because that is the way it should be. He spoke with such passion that it seemed perhaps he could make his vision come to be purely by his unwavering certainty that it would. For now, however, he says “We are okay without money. We are struggling but we are happy. We help each other, we share, and we live through friendship.”

Although their specific motivations and expected outcomes may be somewhat different, all of these volunteers possess the same unwavering dedication to continue giving no matter what. So it presents the age-old question: Does it matter what our motivations are, as long as the end result is a positive one? I’m not sure what my personal answer would be, but for most people at KCC it seems the only thing that matters is working hard, collaborating with one another and believing. With these three ingredients, they are sure KCC can only get bigger and better, and with so many passionate individuals giving so wholeheartedly, it would be difficult to doubt it.

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To read more adventures, go here: www.nextstoptanzania.wordpress.com.

What 365 Acts of Kindness Have Given Me

Countless cups of coffee. Many bunches of flowers. Hundreds of high fives. At least 365 smiles. Baked goods for neighbours and gratitude cards for friends. Compliments and positive post it notes. Volunteering time and donating clothes. Leaving small change in parking metres, vending machines and sometimes upturned hats. Food and conversation for those that didn’t have either. A fundraising BBQ for a friend and sleeping under the stars (or clouds) for the homeless. These are some of the things I gave during the Year of Kindness. So what exactly did I get?

Well, basically, some crazy, challenging, beautiful, unexpected, wonderful, confronting experiences and lots of life lessons…

Embrace uncertainty because you can never ever predict how someone will respond, even when your only motivation is to inject some happiness into their day. Fear? Anger? Joy? Hugs and kisses? Even the smallest act of kindness can create all of the above (and did).

Courage comes from believing strongly enough in something to ignore the fear that comes with it. Being kind to strangers is scary (due to the aforementioned uncertainty and strong possibility of public humiliation.) But a world without kindness is scarier.


Perception shapes reality by allowing us to see only what we believe. Some people were literally unable to see kindness when it was right in front of them, reacting with suspicion and distrust because they did not believe that kindness without hidden agenda even existed. And because they ran away from it, their perception remains their reality.

No matter how crazy you feel for dreaming your dream, if you share it you will discover other people out there who are just as crazy about it as you are. After believing I was a little bit nuts for wanting to make the world a kinder place, I discovered all of you – a whole army of incredible Kindness Crusaders all over the world doing just that.

All of these lessons, and many more, kind of boil down to one idea. In my very first post back in March 2010 I wondered: Can kindness be powerful? And I found out almost immediately that it could, but  it wasn’t until well after the very last Undercover Kindness Mission that I could pinpoint what it was that gave kindness its power. The mission was a kindness treasure hunt. The group split into three teams, decoded clues and headed out into Sydney to give flowers, positive post-its and birthday presents (27 presents for my 27th birthday). It went something like this:

It was a fun day, and as always there was an incredibly positive energy that comes from a group of people gathering with the simple intention of spreading happiness to others. But in all the organising and craziness I didn’t have much time to reflect on the very last kindness mission in a whole Year of Kindness. It wasn’t until a few days afterwards that an answer suddenly came to me about why it is that kindness is so powerful. Why people can react to kindness with anger or joy but very rarely indifference.  Why kindness gave me the courage to share my crazy journey with all of you and to decide to face uncertainty and fear 365 times over. Why it can alter someones day or even transform their perception of the world. And I think it is this:

The essence of kindness is validation. Everyone wants to feel important, heard, cared for, valued, understood, appreciated. And in an act of kindness, no matter how small, we are telling that person that we see them, we acknowledge them, that even if we don’t know them they are worthy of our help and our care.   And that is powerful. That one small act of validation truly can throw out roots in all directions that create new trees. So take a moment, think of how you might help, cheer, encourage, support, give, even in the smallest of ways, and go and do it. For in that simple act there is endless power and possibility.

Thankyou for joining me on this roller coaster ride of a year, and offering so much support, love and wisdom. You can catch me blogging about my Tanzanian adventure here: nextstoptanzania.wordpress.com. I hope life is kindful for you all, and if its not remember you have the power to be the change.

Cat

Spreading the Blogging Love One Last Time…

Well, the Year of Kindness is rapidly drawing to a close. In the next week the Kindness Recruits will be performing the very last Undercover Kindness Mission and I will be sharing it with you in my very last YOK blog. Sad and exciting all at once. Just in case you’re looking for some new reading material, I wanted to take the time to introduce some gorgeous blogs to you…

Astro Artisan – I adore this site. A beautiful and insightful blog drawing on a blend of astrology and art to show the importance of understanding the cyclical nature of life. Silver is very talented – so incredibly accurate! http://astroartisan.com/

Carrer Confessions – How do we find a job we truly love? Monica wants to help by providing a fascinating and inspiring blog designed to motive us all achieve our dreams. careerconfessions.wordpress.com/

Intentional Acts of Kindness – If you need a kindness fix, read about the adventures of another brave soul, David, just starting the challenge of 365 days of kindness!  intentionalactsofkindness.blogspot.com

12 Novels in 12 Months – In a very different kind of year-long challenge, an incredibly disciplined and self-motivated writer, Sandra, is blogging about her personal mastery goal to write 12 novels in one year. 12novelsin12months.wordpress.com/

I would also like to extend a big thankyou to some beautiful blogging friends who have been a huge inspiration and support me: Eric for your wisdom and generosity (resolvetogive.wordpress.com/), Roberta for your beautiful photos and kind heart (inotherwordsandpictures.wordpress.com/), Brittany for your courage and thoughtfulness (theshynessproject.wordpress.com/), Cameron for being the kind of teacher every child wants and deserves (verdant123.com/), Kathy for your creativity and insightfulness (pocketperspectives.wordpress.com/), Lesh for your positivity and passion for kind food (themindfulfoodie.com/) and Steve (growthjournal.org/) who always makes me think about things from a new perspective.

And as for me, I am beginning a very different journey, although it will still involve giving – namely volunteering my writing services to share the stories of some amazing volunteers and children in a community centre in Tanzania. And it will involve some blogging:  nextstoptanzania.wordpress.com/. However, the universe has conspired to ensure it also requires a fair bit of receiving (through fundraising), which is the much harder part for me. Seems there is always more to learn when it comes to the art of kindness!

If I do make it to Tanzania, I’m sure my African adventure will provide many more life lessons to blog about!  In the meantime, check out the incredible blogs above and stay tuned for the YOK grand finale…

A Rare and Wonderful Thing

“Kindness is a rare and wonderful thing.” A man told me this on the bus the other day, in complete shock after I paid for his ride when he didn’t have a prepaid ticket. The thing is, I believe he is wrong. Sometimes its hard not think that the world is full of nothing but selfishness, anger, hatred, and devastation. You only have to turn on the TV to see all these things every minute of every day. However, there is also positivity, courage, generosity, compassion and joy. This blog has given me the opportunity to “meet” incredibly inspiring and giving people from all over the world, all making it a better place in their own unique way. I believe that if you look a little deeper, the world is overflowing with kindness.

And I need your help to prove it. In just under four weeks the Year of Kindness will officially be complete. Crazy but true. There are just twenty eight kind deeds left until hitting the big 365. The Kindness Army is preparing to go out with a bang. The first way you can help is by using your amazing, creative, outside-the-box thinking to come up with kind deeds for the Kindness Army to spread maximum happiness. I have a few exciting plans for the last group kindness mission which I’m keeping completely secret from the Kindness Recruits, just to make it a little more fun. So if you have an idea please email me (yearofkindness@gmail.com) so we can keep it on the down low.

The second and most important way you can help the Kindness Revolution is to join it. The mission, as always, is simple: do something kind on April 5th, the very last day of the Year of Kindness. There are so, so many ways it can be done. Buy a stranger’s coffee, reach out to a lonely neighbour, talk to a homeless person, smile at someone and say hello. Make a connection. Brighten someone’s day. Remind them that kindness is everywhere. And it is wonderful.

Kindness #314: Valentine’s Day

The need: To brighten up Valentine’s Day for those that may not have received a Valentine!  Yes, its cliche and commercial but its also an excuse to show some kindness, which is never a bad thing in my book.

The mission: Handing out flowers at Wynyard train station, Sydney, to people making the daily commute home after work. Each Kindness Agent bought a bunch of flowers – pink and orange gebras, purple carnations and of course red roses. We also wrote our own positive or inspirational quotes to attach to each flower.

We found the perfect bustling spot standing in a line next to double escalators leading down to the station. At the front of the line Agent R held two signs reading ‘Random Act of Kindness’ and ‘Free Flowers’. Agents H, A, S, S and W handed out the flowers. I stood at the end of the line holding a sign saying ‘Happy Valentine’s Day!’

People seemed quite surprised to see what we were doing. All the women generally smiled and took the flowers with a genuine thank you. A lot of men refused, with two that took the flowers feeling the need to explain: “It’s for my wife! Not for me!” Some people on the other escalator were quite upset they were missing out, so quick thinking Agent S raced down the steps to stand and hand out flowers on the other side too.


 This woman exclaimed, “Yes! Give me one! I need a flower today!”
I think we definitely brightened up a lot of people’s Valentine’s Day and we had a huge amount of fun doing it. Thankyou so much to the Kindness Crew for your positivity and enthusiasm and just general awesomeness! 

Undercover Kindness Mission: Positively Complimentary

“Remember the compliments you receive, forget the insults. If you succeed in doing this, tell me how.” – Everybody is Free to Wear Sunscreen, Baz Luhrman

Imagine you are sitting down with your boss for a performance review. They describe one of your positive thing you have brought to the job and then point out one area of your work that isn’t up to standard. Which piece of feedback will you be focusing on for the rest of the day? If you’re like most people, it will be the negative one.

On average, we speak about 16000 words every day. But when it comes to remembering words that were spoken to us (or that we speak to ourselves), we tend to remember the negative, critical words so much more easily than positive, kind ones. Why is this? Apparently its all down to the ‘negativity bias’ of the brain. Our minds are wired to hold onto negative information so if we want to maintain a positive outlook we need at least double the amount of positive words to counteract any negative ones. *

With that in mind, today’s undercover kindness mission** was to spread positive words all over the city of Sydney, whether spoken, written with pens and paper or scrawled in chalk on the pavement. Here’s a little bit of what happened:

Welcome to Sydney (cruise ship, Circular Quay)

The only person that can make you happy is YOU (The Rocks)

 Thankyou! Best coffee in Sydney (Bacino, North Sydney – for Sydneysiders that love their coffee and haven’t been here, do yourself a kindness and get the cappuccino with real chocolate on top! Pure deliciousness.)

I hope your day was full of positive thoughts and kind words. And if it wasn’t, you know what your mission is for tomorrow…

*If you would like to read more about the power of positive words, check this out: http://www.peggybert.com/2010/09/30/positive-and-negative-words/

**There is less than three months left before the Year of Kindness comes to an end (eek), and I am planning some of the biggest kindness missions yet. If you are in Sydney and would like to get involved in a group undercover kindness mission, or have any ideas/suggestions, check out the YOK Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Kindness-Army-aka-Year-of-Kindness/272045112862710.

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