GRATITUDE FOR GOOD
A Blog by Gratitude Alliance
In 2008, I started working as a camp leader in the French slums. These kids amazed me more and more every day. They brought into my life so much wisdom and gratitude for everything I have.
One thing I learnt from them is that the time you give and the love you share with others is much stronger than any money you can offer.
When I was looking at these kids, I was wondering how such little bodies could be filled up with such big hearts and energy. This one thing that makes them so special is I guess the key of happiness - I call it Hope.
And here is the little secret: Hope is the only light in the dark that makes someone rise up again and get confidence enough to face the impossible.
These kids enlightened me. They were my stars by night, my sunshine by day and the flame in my heart to keep enjoying myself. They changed my perspective about Life. What I considered half empty is now half full. Being positive, understanding, patient and respectful are for me they keys to embrace the world.
Life is not about religion, color, sex, age or money. Life is about Love.
A smile to a homeless person, a hug to a child, a kind word to someone who is sick. Any gesture and attention is priceless. No need for words when the heart is speaking. And here is the miracle: you don’t need to move a mountain to change people’s lives. All that is needed is time and love.
“It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye “
Antoine de Saint Exupéry
I used to think that things don’t happen randomly. There is a meaning in the fate that has been given to us.We do not choose our family, nor our backgrounds. That said, decisions we make can sharply change our lives. At the end, we only get what we give.
Traveling around the world, I realized how connected we are - we live the exact same human experiences anywhere in the world with the same feelings : joy, fear, anger, sadness, love. We are mirrors to each other . Why not help your reflection getting a better image in the future? I think of the other as myself. I don’t want to live in a world led by ignorance and indifference. We need to face people to be aware and grateful for what has been given to us.
Actually, being thankful is the magic trick to enlighten your life. Realizing this makes even me happier day after day.
Hope is now my past, my present and my future :
I hope to let my past behind, to cherish every present days and contribute to rebalance the world in the future.
I will keep dreaming. Because there is Hope.
"Hope sees the invisible, feels the intangible and achieves the impossible."
Written by our summer volunteer
By Amy Paulson
There is a small pond in Matatirtha, a rural village resting high above Kathmandu valley, whose name in Nepali means Mother Earth. On Mother’s Day, orphans come to the pond to look at their reflections in the mirror of the water and see the face of their mothers.
It is this serene and spiritual place of Mother Earth that we journeyed to earlier this January to empower healing, dignity, joy, and transformation for the students and teachers at Bright Horizon Children’s Home (BHCH), a school and safe haven for nearly 300 orphans and vulnerable children from the poorest, most remote areas of Nepal.
Each morning, 25 teachers, caregivers, and staff arrived to a freezing classroom, greeted warmly with smiles and hugs by our co-founder and creator of the Safe Embrace Trauma Healing (SETH) program, Elayne Kalila Doughty, MA, MFT. Originally developed as a grassroots healing model for caregivers who work with female survivors of sexual and gender based violence, the SETH curriculum has since been adapted to work with anyone whose trauma originates from the challenges faced by communities in fragile settings: conflict, abuse, human trafficking, disease, abandonment, extreme poverty, and more.
Co-facilitating the training was Charna Cassell, MA, MFT. Last December, Charna joined our SETH L2 global activism program where therapists, social workers, and other healing professionals learn the SETH curriculum and how to teach it in a global setting, fundraise among their communities as healing activists, and volunteer their skills at projects around the world.
After one week of training, a second week of observation and coaching, and the launching of a leadership and life skills course for early high school students taught by the teachers most interested in facilitating healing trainings with other organizations and communities in Nepal, we achieved the following outcomes:
Putting a camera in the hands of children is one of the most interesting things that a photographer can do, through their eyes we can liberate ourselves from the usual conventions of photography and discover new ways of looking.
The eyes of young people are not obstructed by the rules, or suggestions on how to take the perfect picture.
When I thought of this project, the selfish part of me could not wait to learn and be inspired. In reality I would be the one who would have to teach. But teach what? Can you really teach photography?
The project ‘Photography as Healing’ was born in my head and developed thanks to a collaboration with Global Alliance Gratitude and Amy, co-founder of the NGO, who demonstrated enthusiasm, had a relevant project available and accepted my proposal.
The idea is to "teach" the art of photography to children living in villages or marginalized communities in the world. A simple way for these children to express themselves, to tell their life stories, to gain hope and self-esteem. To explain to them that there is a world in which photography is not just 'Selfie' photos and memories, but also stories from our own point of view.
I was playing with a number of things, written explanations, technical applications of photography. Worse still, I had with me some examples of photos to show them.
Thank God I did not do any of it.
Nothing could be worse worse than rules to an unfettered mind .
I asked myself, who am I to tell them that an overexposed photo is not good? Who am I to say that a crooked horizon is not aesthetic? If photography is really the story, they must tell it how they want to, even with dirty, burnt or blurry photos.
Who am I to hold these guys glued to a chair to hear speeches about light?
Success, then, that when I put cameras into their hands, their focus shifted from me to the lens.
I asked them to tell of their lives in school and nothing more. The result? Not a single 'Selfie'.
We did editing, I taught the basic rules of photoshop and I let them change their pictures as they wanted better. The outcome was pink clouds and skies, broken light. Tones of blue and green.
I was surprised how uninteresting black and white was for them, when usually black and white opens people's eyes. They created only a few black and white photos. When I tried to tempt them, telling them that black and white is the simplest solution to the problem of creating an "effect", Their faces lit up, not because they agreed, but rather were laughing like crazy at the fiction of life in monotone.
The world in black and white is fake. And they are right, life is in color, exaggerated, saturated, illusory. But always colorful.
Translated with permission from Chiara's original post at Love the Shoot
It is with joy and enthusiasm that our team travel to Nepal this week. One facet of the trip is to train the staff and caregivers at Bright Horizon Children’s Home to use the Safe Embrace Trauma Healing (SETH) program. This will empower them to help the orphans and vulnerable children in their care who may be experiencing grief, guilt and other unexpressed trauma. ‘Trauma can negatively impact a child's ability to concentrate, learn, develop healthy social relationships and thrive as an independent adult' . Creative arts is one of the three central tenets of the SETH program and self-expression and story-telling will be further developed and encouraged through a music workshop and via a ‘Photography As Healing’ project, during which kids will learn how to take photos, document their lives and create memory books.
Memories, thoughts and feelings are often held in, contained, confined. Instead negative emotion and trauma may be evident in challenging or withdrawn behaviour. The chance to voice the unexpressed, through dance, drama, music, art and photography will give these children an opportunity to tell their stories, show what they feel inside without necessarily having to resort to the complexities of words that don’t flow easily or naturally, or just don’t exist to describe their particular turmoil and trouble.
As the artist Georgia O’Keeffe describes it ‘I found I could say things with colour and shapes that I couldn’t say any other way – things I had no words for.’
In fact, we all have stories to tell. I would argue it’s an essential part of being human to need to find ways to articulate our personal narratives and who we are, to help us come to terms with our past, enjoy our present and plan for our future. Creativity also helps us move through life with more comfort and peace. For me, happiness, enjoyment and self-expression come from writing (for and as a part of this amazing foundation by blogging and helping Amy put her story into book form), visual imagery and creating jewellery with recycled objects and vintage ‘finds’. Rather than internalizing what’s going on in the incessant monologue in my head, I have an outlet for my emotions and it’s really helpful.
As a foundation, we look forward to using creativity and other parts of the SETH program to help address trauma. The children’s creativity, in the form of their photos and recordings of their music will be shared once the trip is complete. They will tell their stories.
By Carol Anderheggen
I am a computer geek but I am also old-fashioned when it comes to writing letters, especially ones which will express my gratitude to someone for their presence in my life. Recently, a dear medical professional, my breast cancer surgeon, retired after fifty years of practice. I had been with him for just about half of his career; he had seen me through thick and thin. In the changing health care industry we have now I think that length of time is unusual and was worth a letter of thanks. Here is what I sent to this wonderful doctor:
"What I said about your being a rock for me and that I would miss you is true but what I did not express is the gratitude I feel for your steadfastness in caring for me. I knew that I could count on you which has been a blessing for me. Thank you for those many years of your medical expertise but more importantly for your sensitivity to my needs. I wish you well and look forward to sharing my writing with you. You will always be the doctor who 'held my hands and thereby cradled my heart'."
This was not an email, nor a Facebook post, nor a tweet. It was a handwritten note in pen on a sweet card. It was snail-mailed. It was from my heart to his.
By Chiara Cerri
I have always loved writing stories since I was a child. I devoured books, imagined other lives, other houses, and other places where life flowed differently.
I was closed in myself and just traveling with my imagination.
When I discovered photography I found out that there was another way to write and tell stories. It took awhile to figure it out, but after the first trip alone I realized that the world is full of stories. They do not need to be invented. They are all there at our fingertips.
You just need to look out the window, leave home, get on a plane.
In the five months that I spent in Brazil I understood a bit more about myself: you can live with 3 pairs of slippers and one pair of shoes for long time. This is probably banal, but not too much. Very often we do not imagine that we are able to take a break from ourselves.
I was living in this favela, the largest in South America, which since 2011 has been "pacified", like many others in Rio de Janeiro. A pacified favela means that almost every day there are shootouts between police and drug traffickers. Blood flowing along the becos (narrow streets of favelas), shots that set the pace of time.
The first time that I saw armed police wandering the streets, I immediately thought about the kids that are living there and I immersed myself in their eyes: every day I see policemen with guns pass in front of their home and live with the fear that a shooting could begin.
How many sad stories can these kids can tell us? Can you believe that despite this they are full of vitality and joy?
When I found Global Alliance Gratitude I understood that this job can give me the chance to use my time better and to combine my passion for communication and social change.
I believe in gratitude. One day I had a simple example of what is. It was evening, I was walking home when I met one of my students: an adult woman who is always cheerful and kind. She immediately invited me to dine with her, I agreed and so we improvised.
We spent a few quiet hours: eating, laughing, joking about the food that was in late, silences and smiles.
When I got back home after awhile I got a long message on Facebook. It was from her. She thanked me a thousand times, that the time with me had been something special.
She told me that something really bad had happened in her life in the days before and she felt dead inside.
The time she had spent with me made her feel better, even though I didn't know anything about her problems.
She was just grateful for that. I asked myself: what have I done that is so important?
Then I realized that it was the time, I just gave my time to a person.
Time we have can be a valuable tool.
By Carol Anderheggen
In this ending month of 2014 I have experienced small but sad endings of my own.
First, my dentist of 30 years retired; a fact which might not occasion any feeling on the part of most folks but I have a mouth full of stories, every tooth has its own special story written by this wonderful dentist. Of course, I wished him well once I recovered from the surprise but I missed his retirement party because I had not opened my mail for a week.
The greater surprise (bordering on shock) was the retirement of my breast cancer surgeon whom I have seen twice a year for over 25 years. He was the first doctor to perform lumpectomies in the state so I went to him on that basis, though I did opt for a mastectomy over the lumpectomy/radiation route. And I have never regretted that choice, not for even one second.
After my last appointment with him I was in tears. Loss of this nature, of someone I care for deeply, is treacherous water for me. “All the old losses reverberate, like bells run out of tune.” So I must be careful to process thoroughly the current pain without getting lost in the old pain.
And where do I end up after feeling such loss? In only the best place one could be—in a state of wondrous gratitude for the life of the person I have said goodbye to whether through death or retirement. The glass is always half full before it is half empty!
By Carol Anderheggen
Every June if the weather and sunshine have cooperated with the 65 year old heirloom peonies my grandmother planted my life is graced with these magnificent flowers. There are so many circling my grandmother's cottage, a cottage I now call home, that I am able to share bouquets around the neighborhood.
I was an orphan found in a Florida orphanage in 1948 by a Navy couple; they adopted me in 1949. Their blend of caring, discipline and military rigidity made for a very difficult ten years until I escaped from the frying pan into the fire of an early marriage.
The saving grace was the new grandmother who moved up from Florida into a cottage on the property, planted her peonies and loved me. These peonies remind me every year of the gratitude I feel toward her, toward the sanctuary of her cottage and even the grace of a young couple taking a chance on an orphan. I am always reminded of this poem by Raymond Carver titled Late Fragment :
And did you get what
you wanted from this life, even so?
And what did you want?
To call myself beloved, to feel myself
Beloved on the earth.
by Ayen dela Torre
Confucius said that if you choose a job you love, you never have to work a day in your life. But as we know, discovering your life’s purpose entails a lot of work. You can do what you love now only to find out that you want to do something different tomorrow. Even with a college degree and “real world” experiences under your belt, you can still have no clue what it is exactly that you want to do.
Fresh out of college, I was offered a promising job in one of the top multinational companies in my country. I accepted the offer and for almost two years, I was happy with the pay, the people and the plan they had for me. But something was missing; I wasn’t sure about my purpose.
I applied for an international scholarship on a whim and I was chosen. I was then confronted with the choice: staying with my comfortable career vs. trying out a unique experience that could potentially be a once in a lifetime opportunity. I chose the latter. I quit my job and booked a ticket to study at International People’s College in Denmark, supposed to be the happiest country on earth.
My choice led me to experience things I never thought I would. I made friends with 60 amazing human beings from 31 countries from the ages of 18 to 69. We were living, partying and learning under one roof. We didn’t have exams or grades but we discovered important things about ourselves, the world and life in general.
Being at IPC gave me the time and space to rediscover things that I am good at and things that I’m passionate about. I was singing on stage, taking photos of strangers and building my own NGO ideas using scratches of brown paper. It can be argued that some of these lessons were not useful to my resume but I was relearning what makes me happy. And that counts a lot in my book.
The Gracias Foundation recently partnered with the International School of Berne, Switzerland to offer selected students the experience of a lifetime: a week-long learning and volunteering program at the Maisha children's home in Kenya. Michael Forzato, a 17-year old junior wrote this blog on what he learned from his experience in Kenya. Check out his other moving essay on why he wanted to volunteer.
By Michael Forzato (Reposted from The Gracias Foundation, now called Global Gratitude Alliance)
What will I take from my experience at Maisha? Well I don’t think that question can easily be answered with words because words can never fully embody how someone feels or describe the connection that one has with the people of Maisha. This connection is felt right when you walk through the doors of the home, seeing the smiling faces of twenty-two children and the wonderful aunts and uncle as they welcome you as if they had known you for years. This connection only grows as time passes because the close corridors of the Maisha home leave little room for privacy and separation. You sleep together, you eat together, you laugh together, and you play together. This interconnectedness, and the people’s natural amicable character is what make Maisha such an ardent place.
The Gracias Foundation recently partnered with the International School of Berne, Switzerland to offer selected students the experience of a lifetime: a week-long learning and volunteering program at the Maisha children's home in Kenya. Michael Forzato, a 17-year old junior wrote this beautiful essay on why he wanted to volunteer in Kenya. We were moved by his words and selected Michael as one of two student participants.Stay tuned for our next blog: Michael's reflections upon returning home from Maisha...
By Michael Forzato (Reposted from The Gracias Foundation, now called Global Gratitude Alliance)
During my winter break in 2010 I was lucky enough to visit Mombasa, Kenya. I was excited to explore a different continent that I had never set foot on. We got on the plane in Zürich, Switzerland and set off on our seven-day trip to Africa.
I was never nervous, to be honest, but also very eager, a similar feeling I get when I join a new basketball or soccer team or about to move to a different country and experience different cultures.
We got off the plane in Africa and I was shocked. There was not much thought put into what I should expect when I got off the plane, but it definitely wasn’t what I saw. Perhaps I was relying on the African stereotypes of the country, where it is made up of vast savanna with wildlife roaming the great plains. In some cases this is true, however what I witness driving in a taxi to our hotel was very much different to my expectations. It was actually quite sad the living conditions that these people were forced to live in. Shacks after shacks lined the unpaved dirt street that bare feet walked upon.
Starting today, all donations to the Maisha safe housing project will be matched, dollar for dollar, up to $20,000, thanks to the generosity of our ecstatic activist and 2x Maisha volunteer, Giulio Montemagno.
The Maisha kids are desperate for better living conditions and enough space to safely grow into young adults. Construction will start in just a few weeks, but we've still got a big gap to close.
So, join us in empowering dignity for these extraordinary kids, and for the next generation of Maisha scholars.
Inspired to to get involved and volunteer? Here are some pointers (but not an exhaustive list!):
In November, Gracias co-founder, Amy, contributed to The Shift Network's web talk about philanthropy and giving alongside Jan Masaoka, Executive Director of CalNonprofits, and Devaa Haley Mitchell, The Shift Network's co-founder. Here are some of the subjects they discussed:
(Reposted from The Gracias Foundation, now called Global Gratitude Alliance)
This January, we're turning two! We are thrilled by how much we've achieved together, and YOU are at the center of it all. So, a huge Thank You (Gracias) to everyone! We hope you'll enjoy our birthday video!
(Reposted from The Gracias Foundation, now called Global Gratitude Alliance)
“It’s a treat for your soul." This is how Olga described her experience volunteering at Gracias’ partner organization in Ethiopia a local children's home in Addis Ababa. She was speaking by live video from London at the “Celebrating Volunteering” event, ably hosted by Chris Reichenbach, to an audience at eBay Bern.