GRATITUDE FOR GOOD
A Blog by Gratitude Alliance
By Rachel Crowther
As updating and posting to social media is my main job for GGA, I spend part of each morning, cup of strong coffee at grabbing distance, surfing news sites. It's entertaining, heart-wrenching and educational. But some articles make a lasting impression. A couple of months ago I came across a photo-essay. It showed how some Nepali women practice the chaupadi tradition, sleeping in sheds isolated from their communities while they menstruate. I'd never considered that periods were anything other than a sometimes inconvenient but integral part of being female. That in some places and cultures, periods are shameful and taboo. That they represent a huge barrier to education for large numbers of girls who don't have access to sanitary conditions at school or any means of dealing with their menstrual flow. That it's an equality issue.
Today is Menstrual Hygiene Day. I love that the date has been chosen for its significance - 'May is the 5th month of the year, representing 5 days, or the average number of days (between 2-7) a woman or girl spends menstruating each month. And, 28 represents the average number of days in a menstrual cycle.' And that it is drawing attention to a problem that's been hidden, thanks in part to our own embarrassment about discussing normal bodily functions. It's important that we do talk about periods. As Menstrual Hygiene Day org.'s fact sheets state, menstrual hygiene is fundamental to:
Things will only change if we talk about periods for what they are, a part of life for 49.7% of the world's population, 5 days per month for 40 years during their lifetime. Without shame. And make them easy to deal with. As with many issues, education for all is key. Education gives access to knowledge and skills and breaks down myths and taboos. It's time for a change. Period.
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
Remember the feeling of excitement after passing your driving test? Many of us have photos of ourselves clutching that hard-earned driver's license, with big goofy grins on our faces.
So it is for this youth in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, who recently passed his test as part of our local partner's commitment to skills training. Driver training classes are only one component of this youth's journey to becoming a tour guide in Ethiopia. Now that he has his license, he is one step closer to self-sufficiency, and we send him our heartfelt congratulations.
This driving course was one of many classes funded by eBay Foundation and our community of everyday activists to provide vocational, job, and life skills training to 30+ young adults, giving them tools to build self-esteem, make positive life choices, and pave a path towards self-sufficiency.
Recently, two other youth successfully found part-time employment as a result of this training program. We are excited to support our partner in launching the skills program again this summer.
What comes to mind when you think of Ethiopia?
Starving children too weak to swat away flies sticking to their tear-stained and snot-smeared faces as portrayed by Live Aid in the 1980's? People dying in squalor, leaving behind orphaned and HIV positive children due to the HIV/AIDS epidemic of the 1990's? Though a product of their time, such startling images have done much damage to our perceptions, leaving the impression of a country where locals have neither dignity or the power to influence their lives and communities.
Instead, we think of Ethiopia as a vast and varied landscape, having both a vibrant history and a growing, developing economy. A country able to assist its citizens by addressing the HIV/AIDS crisis via health education and ARV's and with a dynamic generation of young people who are developing responses, solutions and creating local technologies to help their fellow citizens.
It is this view of Ethiopia which informs our work with our partner organization in Addis Ababa. We are convinced that local, grassroots projects best serve local communities - our role is to simply empower them, rather than paternalistically exporting and enforcing western ideas of what works best. UNICEF advises the international support of community-based responses to the AIDS crisis, including "strengthening young people's life and survival skills" (2003). And as our partner and we are aware, children affected by HIV who were once coming for hospice care are now reaching young adulthood, and require the self-confidence and skills to become successfully self-sufficient .
The vocational program we fund has not been without its challenges, including attendance issues and a lack of full commitment from some of the youth (revealing perhaps deeper issues to be addressed). But its success stories include two of the eldest young adults who are making strides towards successfully leading independent lives:
Further, our partner is convinced that these courses are beneficial: 'We have 10 youth who will complete their high school education this school year. I hope all of them will make it to college /vocational training institutions. I think engaging these youth in additional vocational skill trainings will make a difference in their careers.'
Thank you to the eBay Foundation and to our generous donors who support this project, knowing that real transformation requires patience, time, and locally-led solutions.
Read why faces have been obscured and names changed in this post: Protecting Identities: why it's critical to our work
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:
Photo of writer Carol's back yard in Rhode Island
By Carol Anderheggen
It is an icy world where I live. This February has been brutal in the Northeast. That, combined with a compulsion to empty garbage late at night, led me to a wicked slip on the ice resulting in a broken forearm bone. I am now in week three of an eight week recovery, unable to drive or write. I am able to type for which I am grateful!
I am ever grateful for the neighbor who traverses the icy driveway to help me give my cat his daily medicine; the vet tech that does the same to give kitty his fluids; the friend who lives forty minutes away who comes for the mercy run to the liquor store for Vermouth. A fellow poet who picks me up for errands, supper and gets me to the class we teach together once a week.
These are the gestures which make life worthwhile, both when we give them and when we receive them. Love is a circle fueled by gratitude.
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
By Amy Paulson
Last Tuesday, I returned from Nepal where I spent almost three weeks helping to oversee our trauma healing training, photography, music, and LEGO projects at Bright Horizon Children's Home. My experience was transformational, heart-opening, and deeply meaningful (project update coming soon).
And yet, sitting in my comfortable, heated home in San Francisco for the past week, I've felt a sense of melancholy. I get this way every time I return from field work abroad. I've written about this phenomenon before. I've warned volunteers about it. I commiserated with co-founder Elayne about it on the phone last week. Still, it always surprises me when it happens. Like when I returned from field work in Cambodia a few years ago and drove straight to the French Alps the next day, only to sit in the snow at the top of a ski lift, tears streaming down my face, wondering what in the world all these people were doing gliding on sticks down the mountain.
This time, the feeling hit me like a freight train.
It's hard to describe it. It starts with overwhelming gratitude as I arrive at home, take a long hot shower, then sleep soundly in my warm, fluffy bed - in contrast to the freezing cold bed where I slept at the children's home, snoozing every night under three layers of heavy blankets, fully clothed in thermals, slippers, scarf, gloves, and beanie (those conditions were quite posh compared to the way most in Nepal live). I couldn't muster the energy to shower every day (or even every other day). The icy water was unbearable when the power was out; the hot water supply was limited.
Then, it shifts to sadness. As I look around me at all the people innocently going about their daily routine, I feel confused. I want to shout: Do you understand that half the world lives in poverty? Do you know that many of our fellow humans, including little children, are often abandoned, persecuted, left for dead, or even killed because of their gender, faith, or caste? Do you know that you hit the jackpot being born in ________ [insert: any developed country in the world]?
I wonder, how can the rest of the world continue about their day unknowingly while this terrible injustice of humanity rages on? And, what does it mean that I am also guilty of living mindlessly, coveting material things, not giving thought to others in the world?
At the same time, I feel sorrow that so many people will never see or experience the heart-opening love that I was honored to witness in Nepal. I listened to a student talk about how the oxygen of his breath in deep meditation is like a medicine he gives to his mother. I saw a teacher apologize if he ever unknowingly hurt another person after learning about the definition of abuse. I observed the teachers making human statue examples of what an empowered person looks like, from one teacher standing with palms facing up, saying "thank you, thank you, thank you" to two male teachers courageously demonstrating a loving embrace. And, I danced, sang, and celebrated our aliveness with teachers, staff workers, and children throughout our stay.
By Amy Paulson
It’s almost 11pm in Matatirtha, Nepal. The power was out for 11 hours today. My laptop battery is about to die. My headlamp is secured to my fuzzy earflap hat, blanket wrapped cozily around my lap, scarf wound tightly around my neck. With no central heating, and portable electric heaters that don’t work when the power is out, the little propane heater in our guest apartment at Bright Horizon Children’s Home roars away, warming up the freezing space enough to be live-able… at least for us non-Nepalis. The bottle of whiskey helps, too.
Electricity in Nepal is a rare gift. Blackouts (“load-shedding”) are a reality for people here, especially at this time of year when water otherwise used for hydropower is frozen. Blackouts can last up to 16 hours a day. Generators are only available for those who can afford it.
For us visitors, it means that the few hours a day when the electricity is on, we furiously scramble to our laptops, send our important emails and post updates on Facebook, letting friends and loved ones know how we are doing. Connectivity is painfully slow. Sometimes it takes one hour to post one photo on Facebook…that is, if you have the patience to wait that long.
For Nepali locals, it means that working via computer is a constant uphill battle. Mobile phones may allow many Nepalis to connect on Facebook or text loved ones - but oftentimes even doing a basic Google search becomes a whole day-long ordeal. Never mind YouTube. Netflix? Uh, no. WebMD, Khan Academy, Wordpress, Wikipedia, or any other educational or practical web-based resource? Forget about it.
And yet, the kids here learn HTML for their national exams. Their teacher, Ajay, explained how difficult it is teach computer class when the electricity and internet are always out. If the power goes back on after the school day ends, Ajay often stays late helping the students learn whatever the day’s lesson should have been.
At night, sometimes the lights go off, like they did while we were eating dinner last week. When the lights flicker back on, our Nepali friends make a small gesture, moving their hand from their forehead to their heart and back again: a beautiful blessing of thanks for light, for electricity… for a basic necessity that we all take for granted.
Yet, in the absence of that connection to electrical power, the people here have a connection with each other. They laugh, cry, and share with each other - not through an electronic device, but in real, face-to-face conversations with each other.
Even tonight, we sat together in the dark, a battery-powered LED light in the corner of the dark kitchen, and we talked about the incredible hospitality, love, and connection among the people of Nepal... the connections we have made with the staff and teachers in the SETH training, the little children who hold our hands, desperate for a feeling of love and safety, the cook who smiles at us with a twinkle of kindness in his eyes, the Tibetan monk who shares stories with us about the hardships not just of Tibetan refugees in Nepal but of the Nepali locals themselves.
That connection reminds me to be grateful. So, as I sit here in the dark, I move my hand from my forehead to my heart, saying a little blessing for the ease and abundance of electrical power that fuels my connection at home, and for the lessons about love, life, and deeply meaningful connection here in Nepal.
We receive regular updates from volunteer architects Veronica and Francesca who are on site daily working, supervising and advising. Recently, the false ceiling was finished, and the roof structure is complete. Next step is adding the Mabati (metal sheets) and tiles to the roof. The Maisha kids are looking forward to moving into their new home, sometimes lending a hand!
Read the full report below:
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.
The drumbeat gets louder. The kids toss and turn. Their bodies contour in different shapes. They use their strength to build human pyramids. The crowd applauds. The performers bow down. The smiles are priceless. It seems like a good show for a circus, but it’s a breakthrough in a children’s home.
Maisha, our children’s home partner in Kenya, cares for twenty-two children who were orphaned mainly by HIV/AIDS, conflict and extreme poverty. They are provided with shelter, food, and education in a semi-rural farm environment outside of Nairobi. These kids have gone through immense grief and trauma. Aside from basic necessities, they have unique psychosocial needs.
In 2013, Maisha introduced weekly drumming and acrobatic classes taught by local Kenyan professionals. One of the teachers they partnered with was Peter Waithaka, more commonly known as "Doc". Doc was a former member of the Kenya national acrobatic team called African Sakata Acrobats. He is currently a social entrepreneur, working on other projects that address educational and life skill needs among Kenya's underserved youth.
With the help of Doc and local drumming teacher, Robinson Owino, or "Robbie", the project has been a success. The classes not only help the kids learn how to do somersaults and synchronize the beat of the drums, it also helps develop their self-esteem. The kids learn about teamwork and the value of support in a community. These classes are also good for the community because they provide employment to the locals as well as inspiration. "The smiles they give us after learning a new acrobatic stunt or pyramid give us strength to persevere and be there for next class," said Doc. The teachers have become role models for the kids to look up to. And the experience brings joy to the children’s lives by providing a fun and healthy environment for them to heal.
One of the Maisha girls was homeless, orphaned and exploited by the age of nine. Five years later, despite making overwhelming progress in adapting to home life at Maisha, she still suffers from deep emotional trauma. She has a difficult time focusing in school and at home. Yet for the first time, her teachers are seeing her blossom in the acrobatic class.
They observe that some of the other youth, who are academically challenged and started school at a later age, are also doing well in these classes. Acquiring new skills and thriving in a new environment has helped them believe in their own potential. Our hope is that these experiences will guide them to make positive choices in the future.
In other parts of the world, Circus therapy is proving to be an effective tool for psychotherapeutic healing. Clowning about has helped boost confidence and encourage camaraderie among Finland’s disaffected youth as well as the elderly. Women in London who are suffering from depression are learning to fly trapeze while building their confidence and strength, and moving them towards employment. Young people at risk have discovered a safe haven to find their balance at Halifax’s Circus Circle.
Life can be a great balancing act and at some point, people find themselves walking on a tightrope. But it’s inspiring to know that there are many ways to help people make it all the way across such as teaching acrobatics to a little girl in Kenya to help her believe in herself.
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!