Letters of Love in the time of Corona

Penning support during these unprecedented times.

It’s been weeks since we first heard of the COVID-19 outbreak. Unlike pandemics or disasters we’ve heard of before, the viral outbreak of 2020 affected everyone in one way or the other. 

Letters Earthlings was a small initiative with the intention of connecting strangers across the world through good old letters. In response to the pandemic and its effects, we felt the need to reignite the same project to inspire human connection and kindness, this time through letters written digitally.

Hence the project ‘Letters of Love in the time of Corona’. We started the project in the first month of April. This was just about the same time when most countries in the world put in place stringent social distancing measures and lockdowns. The idea was to enable anyone to request a letter for someone they know, anywhere in the world to help them cope through the current crisis. The letter would be written by a letter writer from anywhere in the world who would pick up the request. The letter would then be emailed to the person it was requested to.

We established forms that enabled strangers to request letters for someone who was having it tough. This could be someone who had lost their job, was very anxious about the uncertain future, was finding it difficult to cope with social isolation – anyone really who they thought could do with some extra love and support. The form when filled would detail the person’s name, their e-mail ID and a brief of the message to be delivered. A letter request could also could also be made for the person requesting the letter themselves.

We also opened up the doors to letter writers, people who would chose to volunteer to write the heartfelt bundles of letters after the requests were received.

So far, over 825 letters have been emailed to strangers across the globe.

Over the six weeks, we had 364 letter writers sign up from 22 different countries. As for the requests, we received 285 letter requests from 18 different countries. The response has been overwhelming and it’s been a journey of both healing and relief experienced by both the writers and recipients. We’ve received messages that tell of happiness and heartfelt appreciation from those who have received the letters. Despite the distance, good old letters continue to inspire and spread love and hope.

The pandemic may still not be over, but as the world slowly recovers, we’ve come to realize we all have the power to deeply empathize. Digital letters of love continue to inspire the human connection, to spread kindness and love even to strangers we may never meet.

We were a team of 5 of us working behind the scenes on this campaign and amidst these trying times, facilitating this project uplifted us in deep and beautiful ways. Read more from one of our team mates here.

 

Living on love and fresh air – our journey across India

It’s been over 4 years since The Goodwill Tribe has been a part of our lives. 4 years of learning, experimenting, smiling and smiling, beautiful connections and just experiencing so much love. Through The Goodwill Tribe we have connected with incredible human beings in different parts of India and the world, who have taken on the responsibility to lead The Goodwill Tribe chapters in their cities and host monthly events. For the first time ever, we (Sonia and Chandni) set out on a 14-day tour across 7 cities in India to visit some of these amazing people. To sum it up, for 14 days we experienced what it’s like to live on love and fresh air, honestly!

Day 1 and 2: Hyderabad

It’s a unique story in Hyderabad. We’re working with a café and restaurant that wishes to permeate its walls with the warmth of human connection. It’s amazing to sit down with business owners and hear them say, “It works, human connection works.” They are willing to give us the room to experiment, willing to strip away the usual parameters of success (no. of people, total bill value) and allow us to create wholesome and rich experiences of connection. They intuitively understand that being a space that is authentically rooting for connection will in time affect their bottom line, and we are just so kicked to find a partner who is this progressive!

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That evening we hosted a Letter Earthlings event. It was the second time in Hyderabad that we were doing something like this and it felt like the response is getting warmer each time 🙂 People enthusiastically wrote one letter after another, illustrating their letters beautifully. 

The most powerful part of this evening was when we in a circle, shared stories of kindness that we’d experienced. Sonia shared that when she was travelling in a taxi in Dubai once, she’d felt drawn to talk to her driver and genuinely ask him how he was doing. The conversation that followed remains one that she will never forget and at the end of the drive, he refused to take any money from her sharing that in 10 years, no customer had ever listened to him like that. Tanya shared a story of the generosity of a shop keeper on one of her travels. She was carefully looking for a gift for a dear friend of hers. When, after a lot of hunting, she finally picked one the shop keeper refused to charge her for it, saying he was moved by her intention to find the perfect gift for her friend. Alex shared a powerful story of a stranger who saved his life. Years ago when he was just a little over 1 year old and travelling on a train with his family, he’d crawled away, got lost and somehow made his way out of the train and on to the tracks. This stranger heard him wailing from under the train and climbed down to fetch him and return him to his distressed Mum! What a powerful story. Anusha, a coffee loverrrr shared how a barista at a coffee shop in an airport had snuck her a free drink when she didn’t have money in the right currency to pay for it. Apurva shared the story of how a stranger in a new city had travelled in the tram with her and her family, in a direction opposite to where he had to go, just to show them the way. Nayonika was once in situation where she had to give a training to a very intimidating crowd of people. She was going to be alone in the room with all of these strangers, when a colleague of hers that she barely knew chose to stick around and be there in the background to support. When she later asked him why, he said he could see she needed someone to calm her nerves. Spriha shared this beautiful and simple story of greeting a security guard at a mall with a wide smile, making him feel so seen, he was almost stunned! It was a beautiful reminder of the power of little acts of kindness and how they go a long way. Its always amazing to be a part of these circles of sharing and listen to the stories. We can’t wait to witness more magic at TOS Cafe & Cocktails!

Day 3: Nagpur

How can we capture what happened here! There are no words and it makes us want to go backwards or at least share our last moment in Nagpur first. Sonia and I were sitting on the train, waiting to depart from Nagpur and Mandar and Himanshu were standing outside our window. We were all just smiling at each other in silence, words not capable of expressing all that we wanted to share. In the air around us, you could feel the feeling of hearts that had truly connected, hearts that had seen each other, smiled at each other and were bowing down in absolute respect and admiration of each other. To think we’d only just met 36 hours before this moment. 

We arrived in Nagpur at the crack of dawn to be greeted by Mandar and Prerna who had woken up way before their usual time, and rode on their bikes in the crisp cold to greet us at the bus stand. They took us on their bikes to Apoorva’s home, Apoorva and her family had so generously offered to host us. We were ushered straight up to the room and made very comfortable and told to rest a little to be prepped for the exciting day that was awaiting us. Our intention of this trip was to really just connect with everyone, but the folks in Nagpur had gone above and beyond to make sure that we did, but while soaking in all that we could in their city. The day started in this place called The Breakfast Story (that really deserves its own blog article!) where we started to get to know a few of the awesome people that host Goodwill Tribe events in Nagpur.

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To give you a little context, there is a team of 40 volunteers (enthu cutlets, as they call themselves) in Nagpur who come together to create and host events that inspire compassion and human connection in their city. Mandar takes responsibility to hold it all together, but does so in the most gentle and empowering way! Most of the people in this group of 40 were strangers only a few months ago, but if you watch them now you’d think they’ve been best friends their whole life. There is such comfort and ease among them all. A kind of comradery that comes from doing something meaningful together, in a space of no judgement, where everyone is encouraged to tap into their gifts and inner love.

In the early evening, we had a chance to visit the post office which is among India’s oldest post offices. A lot of us picked up post cards and sat around to write them. The rest of the evening was spent trying out all kinds of yummy delightful snacks. It started with samosas, kachoris, moved on to chaat, and ended with pav bhajji. Boy were we full – full in our tummies and full in our hearts to be receiving such warmth from people we were meeting for the first time. At the restaurant, we decided to pay for a table where a Mum and her 9-year-old daughter were dining. We went to the counter, covered their bill, left them a little card and asked the owner to not tell them who had paid for them. But as many time happens, the owner ended up pointing us out with a big smile, and Mandar, with his warm smile, went to the lady to explain what had happened. Her face lit up with gratitude, and left her teary eyed and what was even more amazing was the expression on her daughter’s face! Beautiful ending to an extraordinary day.

Day 4: Nagpur 

If you asked us what we were on the trip to do, we’d smile and say, “we don’t really know, we’re just here to connect, whatever happens from that will happen”. Not a very concrete answer some would think. What is the expected outcome, how do you justify the time, effort, resources going into the trip. Fair questions that we see the value of. We’ve however come to experience that the answers to these questions are often hard to limit to a few ideas. Coming together to deepen compassion and kindness has ripple effects that go beyond what we will ever know. We’ve been operating in this mode of flow, where we have strong intentions, where we bring our genuine selves into all conversations and activities and where we open the field up to learning together, from each other. And so this is what we did at our sessions in all cities, the first one being in Nagpur.

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We were to gather with the volunteers in a local park and we got there a little earlier to setup. There happened to be little children playing in the park who were very curious to know what we were up to with our colourful marigold flowers. We invited them to create a little design on the grass and in that way be a little part of our circle. All the volunteers arrived by around 10.30 am and we all sat together in this circle of sharing. The first part of the circle was to share our motivations, stories and learnings from being on this journey to spread more compassion and connection. The depth of the reflections were just elevating. Aishwarya shared that her vision with her life was just to be of service in the world, to soak in life and give it all she’s got, whilst always looking for ways to improve the lives of others. Taking steps to do this was enabling her to express her own truth. Mandar shared about his return to Nagpur and the dullness he felt in the city. He decided to do something to create the experiences that he would have liked to have here and that was the start to everything! Together with his team of volunteers, they’ve hosted 5 powerful events in human connection. He’s watched friends and strangers come together, many of them straight out of very difficult phases, to do extraordinary things. He’s watched how being a part of this community on the shared mission to spread smiles has been so empowering for all of them. His heart now fills with gratitude as he watches his circle of now close friends feeling empowered by their efforts to light up the lives of others. Another Aishwarya shared a story of how she participated in a 21-day kindness challenge. Each day she’d felt so much joy, as though the day was complete and she’d really made the most of it. She decided then that why stop there, why not make being kind a way of life! Prerna shared with tears about her journey, how she’d always been a fighter, an optimist, never willing to be brought down by all the inevitable challenges. In the recent years, through the wisdom and support of noble friends she realised that it was harmful to carry all the burdens of life, constantly rising above them, without first meeting them in the eye. She realised it was okay to not be okay. From then on, she’s tried her best to truly be there for others who needed some support. Her share helped surface some powerful themes that were the centre of the next part of the session – the power of safe spaces, how can we be the kind of people that let others just be themselves, how can we be connected so deeply that we are always supporting each other (visibly and invisibly).

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Here we shared one of our favourite stories about Oak trees. After hurricane Katrina, in the aftermath of all the destruction, the only thing that was left were the Oak trees. When this was looked into, it was found that the roots of the Oak trees travel miles and miles under the surface entwining with each other, holding each other so strong, that even when everything was destroyed, they stood tall. This was inspiration for our next session – how can we connect with each other through our roots? Really get to know each other’s stories, hopes, dreams, joys, pains, fears, with no judgement. And so we divided ourselves into groups of 3 or 4 people and each had our own little sharing circle. A whole hour later, everyone was still completely immersed in deeply sharing the stories of their lives and really listening to each other, without any judgement, with open minds and hearts. There was laughter and tears at the same time as each one of us opened up. It was beautiful to witness. 

We then broke for lunch, a hearty meal that Mandar’s mum had single-handedly prepared for all 25 of us!! And soaked in the moment as Rushabh serenaded us with his amazing voice and skills on the guitar. It was one of those moments you want to live on repeat for awhile 🙂

After lunch, we reconvened to share our reflections on the breakout circles. Some common themes that came up were – we had all felt safe to share our stories with no fear of judgement, we are so much like each other and in many instances, we felt as though we could completely connect to what the other was going through. It was a reminder that these kinds of conversations are so important, they are part of the process of wrapping our roots together in support.

We then ended the session with a reminder of the power of small acts of kindness, and how they can ripple into the world. Gowri shared a really touching story. Outside her home, some construction work is under way and the people working there live there in a makeshift setup. There is a young boy who often runs around, scantily clad and he’s befriended a litter of puppies that have just been born to a street dog. She’s been watching him share the little food that he gets with the puppies, and even bring them some scrap cloth as a blanket. Rushabh shared a powerful story of the security guard who worked at his school. When he first performed on stage, he was ridiculed not only by his classmates but also by his teachers. As he walked off stage completely dejected, this guard who was new in school called out to him and congratulated him for performing, he told him that it was a good performance and amazing that he’d put himself out there. He encouraged him not to pay any attention to the people who’d made fun of him but instead to be determined to keep trying. It’s a moment that Rushabh, now a successful musician, has not been able to forget. There were so many stories, we could go on forever 🙂 It was such a powerful experience to sit in that circle and listen to all these moments of goodness. 

We then broke out into action. We were going to hit the streets of Nagpur with our favourite event, ‘Kindness Confetti’, where we go out and do random acts of kindness for people. So we made boards that read positive messages with the help of the little kids who were still hanging around. And off we went to the centre of the city, 25 volunteers on a mission to spread smiles 🙂

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We were then chauffeured to Apoorva’s home to grab our luggage, and then off to the railway station to catch our train to our next stop, Mumbai. On the way, we had a surprise pit stop, to get hugs (and a box of hot aloo parathas) from a bunch of volunteers who wanted to wish us a final goodbye. Overwhelming moments of deep love is all we’ll say. And then we were on the train, smiling in silence, acknowledging the magic that we’d never truly be able to share. Moments like this have to experienced.

It’s difficult to make a list of the ripple effects in those 2 days as we will never really know (and perhaps its not even our business to really know). But here are a few reflections that have come up. A volunteer shared that she now truly understood why she was doing all that she was doing with The Goodwill Tribe. Mandar shared that before the day, they were a great team, but after the day they felt like family (we thought they looked like family right from the start =P). In Nagpur there is a waiting list of people wanting to join the volunteer team, and we see why, it’s a team of love warriors. Its difficult to include so many people but what they’ve decided to do is every last weekend of the month this whole bunch of people which comes up to 90 people (!) are going to hit the streets with random acts of kindness. Ripples of that, well we can only begin to imagine and smile. We experienced absolute love and warmth from people we’ve never interacted with before. It was a visceral experience of what we know is possible – when people come together with love in their heart, magic happens. 

Day 5: Mumbai

We did Mumbai, Mumbai style, a quick hustle, in and out in less than 12 hours. We went straight to Shreya’s place (Shreya and Grafleen lead the Mumbai chapter of The Goodwill Tribe) where her parents had so generously prepared an absolutely delightful breakfast for us. We intended to spend the day there, parked on the cushions by the window with the view of the sea and ample trees. Such a lovely space for the sharing of stories 🙂

It was a small and intimate circle of the 4 of us girls, with Shreya’s parents joining us for the first part of it. They shared their take on compassion and kindness and the importance of these values in our lives. It’s always great to hear the wisdom of our elders. All 6 of us shared a few moments of meditation together and then Uncle and Aunty left us to do our thing.

Shreya and Grafleen shared about their experiences hosting events in Mumbai. The city had managed to really surprise them in some instances – once close to 100 people showed up at an event where they’d only expected around 20, forcing them to hustle to hold it all together. (Proud of you two!). Both of them had been drawn to this cause largely because of the charm of Letter Earthlings, where we hand write letters of love to strangers. In fact both of them had written to us during the same week close a year ago and got on board on the same day. It’s amazing how these things work! They shared that during their second meeting, they’d really spent quality time with each other, having conversations that surprised the both of them. They’d been able to share parts of their lives with each other that they don’t usually talk about. It’s always amazing to see the richness and depth of connections that come from doing something meaningful together.

When we were sharing stories of kindness, Shreya shared one from a trip she’s been on. She noticed the goodness in the staff member that had been taking care of her during the trip and made the effort to hand write a letter of appreciation to the hotel specially highlighting all that this person had gone over and above to do. This act of kindness had a ripple effect with her letter being circulated all across the chain of this hotel, as an example of exemplary service. And the person she’d highlighted received a promotion! They are actually still in touch. Another reminder that no act of kindness is ever wasted 🙂IMG-20180114-WA0018

The day was a simple and a quiet one, one that allowed us to get to know these two lovely women a little better and we are grateful for it. We exchanged hugs, smiles and parted ways, with us onward to our next adventure in Goa!

Day 6 : Goa

Our first evening in Goa was so special. Madhu and Andy (the two beautiful girls who hold it all together in Goa), had picked out a quaint little café nestled in a maze of alleys (a part of Goa we’d never experienced!), for us to meet the rest of the volunteers. We sat together along this beautiful cobblestone path, sharing stories of our journey with compassion and kindness. Andy had brought a ‘bowl’ of fun questions to break the ice. (Though we must say in these circles, the warmth felt just melts all of the ice away – as it did even in this one).

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Shilju shared his stories of always being someone who people would come to for advice and support. Chitra, the very young Math professor, reminisced how warm an act of kindness had once made her feel. She recognises the power of acts of kindness and wishes to pay them forward. Kaavya with her lovely smile re iterated Chitras reflections. Leeander took us deeper, revealing snippets of her life and how art had always been her channel for self expression. Reuben touched the surface of all that he is doing to support other people. He’s been a part of so many initiatives and organisations aimed at better mental health and more human connection. We think he’s found a way to include more than 24 hours in his day!

Swathi shared that she was initially sceptical about doing kind things for strangers, but her experience after the Kindness Confetti event had turned it around. Shivam brought so much with his ability to really listen to everyone. And of course Andy and Madhu (especially) had tons of stories to share.

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Just as were wrapping up, a server from inside the café came around serving us all snacks. We were all wondering who had gone and ordered this, only to discover that the owner of the café had decided to gift them to us. She had no idea who we were or what we were doing, but just chose to be generous. It’s amazing to experience these moments! 

Day 7: Goa

The next afternoon, a few of us gathered at a café to keep the sharing of stories and learnings going. Our favourite story of the oak trees set the tone, opening the circle to sharing about our lives and the experiences that defined us. We were so moved by how open everyone was, sharing about the challenges in their lives that had taken them to rock bottom and how they had then made their way out of these black holes. When we open like this with each other, it allows us to glimpse a little into each others hearts and honour each other for who we are and why we’ve become the people we are. Connection like this is so rich in compassion and respect and we long for people in the world to connect with each other in this manner and offer a safe space to do so.

After this beautiful circle, we’d planned to hit the streets with random acts of kindness and spread some smiles. And so we whipped some boards with happy messages and quotes on sticky notes and went along our way! It was so much fun watching passerbys light up as they encountered us, and leaving happy notes on the windshields of all the cars we passed. A great channel to express all the gratitude and goodness we were feeling!

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The evening was young and we were in Goa, so of course we hit the beach and went to a karaoke place where we sang old classics and laughed into the night. What a blessing to have friends everywhere we go. Imagine…. the world can really be like this! 🙂

Day 8 : Goa

This extra day was a gift we had given ourselves to just wind down and soak in everything that had happened so far. We did meet Greg, a mentor and a rockstar who is working relentlessly to create products that inspire kindness, cooperation and collaboration among children. He’s released a game called Acting Kindly, that makes being kind super interactive and fun for kids. In fact he has just launched a crowdfunding campaign to raise the money to get the cards out to schools in India. Do check it out 🙂

And then we said farewell to Goa, and boarded the bus for another overnight journey to Pune (back home for Chandni).

Day 9: Pune

By the time we got to Pune, both of us had taken a bit off a beating from all the travel and used this day to recuperate at home and enjoy the goodness of a home cooked meal, courtesy Chandni’s folks.

We met Pournima, Madhura and Ajinkiya (a good old friend and GWT supporter!) for breakfast. We’ve already in the past had the good fortune of spending quality time with these human beings and so the morning was more about catching up. We listened in to snippets of their lives, and just were left amazed at how brave, and humbling both their journeys are. We were carrying a lot if inspiration from the journey so far and now plan to act on that in Pune and perhaps inspire a well connected community here too! 

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Day 10 and 11: Delhi

Delhi was that part of the trip where nothing really goes according to the plan haha. And that too is essential to a trip! Our flight from Pune was delayed by 3 hours and that took away half the day and Chandni began to feel quite ill. But nevertheless, the evening was ours to meet old friends and explore the city.

We met the tribe in Delhi the next morning and it was a very small and intimate circle with 2 local rockstars, Abhishek and Shreya.

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The dynamic in each city was quite different and in Delhi our learnings were fascinating. Abhishek and Shreya together run an initiative called Those in Need. They are working to connect NGOs with volunteers, giving NGOs the support they require and making volunteerism an easy reality for people all over the city! So, these two human beings are already very kicked and pro-active about social change. They also tie up with other initiatives to bring events related to human connection to their city and this is how and why they now run The Goodwill Tribe in Delhi. 

An important part of the circles we hosted was the sharing of our learnings over the last 4 plus years of experimenting with The Goodwill Tribe. 5 key learnings that we’ve been sharing are:

  1. The power of emergence
  2. The power of human connection
  3. A shift from leadership to laddership
  4. The power of multiple forms of capital
  5. The power of small acts of compassion, kindness and love

What was absolutely amazing was the realisation that Shreya and Abhishek have walked a very similar path in their experiments with Those in Need. They too just set out on this path with a strong intention, but not too much of a solid plan, but things began to shape themselves in ways they could not even imagine (Emergence). Through all their experiences, they’ve grown to realise that what creates the impact is the little moments when two people connect (human connection and small acts). Shreya was sharing stories of her growth through her involvement with Those in Need. Being a dancer, in the first year she was very pumped about this event ‘Dance for kindness’ that they hosted. She was very out there, in the front, teaching people, leading the performance, and really leading from the limelight. Over the years she’s realised a gentle shift within herself, where she finds she’d rather be in the background, watching people dance, watching them grow in confidence, watching them grow in compassion and lead gently and quietly from the ‘back of the room’ (Laddership – leaders who exist to empower others, by holding the ladder for them to rise). Those in Need have also been tapping into the power of multiple forms of capital in their journey so far. 

It’s amazing to connect with so many people who are creating social change in this bottom up way, valuing the small and subtle shifts that can actually trigger large scale change!

After a lovely tour of the city with Shreya and Abhishek, we prepped to leave for our last destination – Jaipur!

Day 12, 13 and 14: Jaipur

It was a bit strange to realise we were at the last stop of this trip, felt like it had all gone by so quickly, yet as though so much life had been packed into our days. We stayed with Rachna, and had a chance to soak in her inspiring story of entrepreneurship. We were lucky to get to spend some time with her lovely brother Lokesh, an 18-year-old, radiant with wisdom and compassion. After a bit of a rest and a yum home cooked breakfast, we headed out to meet Anuj, who runs GWT events with Rachna and Chirag.

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We chanced upon meeting the folks from Contree, a very inspiring initiative that is working to engage every-day people in projects that contribute to their local environment and community. It was beautiful to hear Rohit the founder, speak about his vision with Contree. He shared about wanting to create a platform where everyone can very easily be empowered by their ability to create change in their local community. A grand intention, expressed with no inkling of self-interest. It’s so powerful to see this growing presence of leaders who are being the best they can be, in order to uplift everyone else. At the moment they’ve kicked off a project where they clean up dirty spots in Jaipur and give these areas an face life through street art.

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We then made our way to the café where we were gathering with the community for a round of Kindness Confetti. Kindness Confetti is an event where we go out on to the streets and do random acts of kindness to make people smile. So, we take boards that read positive messages, give hi5s, give HUGS. It was the first time this was being done in Jaipur and wow it went so well! We divided ourselves into smaller groups and went out on our missions. In the sharing circle in the end, a lot of people shared that the experience had started with them feeling lots of inhibition and then as they reached out and gave (and received) that first hug, their inhibition just faded. It was an absolute hugging festival or what Sonia would call, ‘LOVE-BOMB’. Chirag, one of our most fearless warriors of love actually got lifted off the ground in a bear hug that made his day. It was great to hear everyone’s stories and watch everyone’s smiles. How lucky we are that we get to land up in a new city and connect with people through warm hugs!

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Kindness Confetti caught the attention of Radio Mirchi and 2 days later we were invited into the studio to share about The Goodwill Tribe. The RJ was a lively, passionate 21 year old who was blown away by the idea of free-hugs. We had SUCH a great time, chatting away and having a good time right before and after he interviewed us. The good vibes were almost palpable. The team at Radio Mirchi were so inspired that they went on to do another Free Hugs event with us in February!

And that was that, it was time to go home 🙂

Through this journey we witnessed the beauty of communities that are connected around values of kindness, compassion and authenticity. It really was a powerful experience of what we have always believed is possible. Through these deep and value rich connections, it felt like people were being empowered to express the best of themselves, to feel safe and honoured for who they are and to pour pure love and goodness into the world. What if all of us had connections like this in our lives? What if all of us had the opportunity and space to come together to spread love? What would our communities, our culture look like? The possibilities are limitless and beautiful. The question that we sit with now, is how can we inspire this spirit of compassionate connection in communities all over the world ? How can we dream big and yet remain rooted in the power of the small? How can we do our best to foster the ripples of this movement? And a very exciting question – what are the possibilities when we bring all of these beautiful, crazy, fun, kind and compassionate human beings together? (And how soon can we do this =D)

 

Kindness in Culture – Ubuntu

There is an increasing amount of research revealing that human beings are inherently kind and compassionate. And there are many examples of cultures and communities that live in alignment with these values. Arunesh our volunteer blogger is exploring this theme to uncover inspiring stories of ‘kindness in culture’, from around the world.

So let me begin with a little story. An anthropologist was on a tour to Africa studying the habits and culture of a remote tribe. On the day when he was about to leave, he decided to put together a basket filled with delicious eatables. Placing the same under a tree, he gathered the children from a nearby village. Instructing them further, the kids were told to run towards the tree to fetch the basket. The one reaching first would have a chance to savor those delicacies.

To the man’s surprise, the little kids ran together, hand-in-hand. Eventually, everyone was crowned the winner since all of them finished at the same time. Therefore, each little soul beneath the tree could enjoy the fruits in unison. Mind-boggled by this instance which unfolded before his own eyes, he questioned a young girl about the same. With a smile she replied, “How can one of us be happy when the others are sad?”

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This ideology forms the core or say, an underlying feature of ‘Ubuntu’ which basically means ‘I am because we are.’ Isn’t it amazing? A renowned South African activist, Mr. Desmond Tutu, has explained the philosophy very well. He says, “Africans have a thing called ubuntu. We believe that a person is a person through other persons. That my humanity is caught up, bound up, inextricably, with yours. When I dehumanize you, I dehumanize myself. The solitary human being is a contradiction in terms. Therefore you seek to work for the common good because your humanity comes into its own in community, in belonging.”

Not much remains to be said after this crisp definition of what Ubuntu is all about. Sighting a simple example, why am I writing this? It’s because you (are) and many other people would be reading it. The fundamental act of writing has the power to bridge the gap between an author and a reader. They are intricately linked through a piece of text, however the content maybe. Indeed, this is a broad consideration and varies from true essence of Ubuntu. But the concept of kindling that sense of oneness is a mutual feature between the two. We at The Goodwill Tribe believe the same when it comes to embracing human connections. Kindness and compassion is all you need to make a difference in the lives of people. For the South Africans, it’s a way of life!

Letters of love, taking on cancer – Nagpur

“We are all just a car crash, a diagnosis, an unexpected phone call, a newfound love, or a broken heart away from becoming a completely different person. How beautifully fragile are we that so many things can take but a moment to alter who we are for forever?”

-Samuel Decker Thompson

Isn’t it amazing how simply yet beautifully Thompson talks about the unpredictability of our lives? We never know how an event will impact our life and change it forever. Cancer is one such experience that can alter a person’s personality and make her/him a completely different person.

In the Nagpur edition of Letter Earthlings, we thought why not take cancer and try to change the way people look at it. We wrote letters to cancer survivors, cancer patients and to the families who have lost their loved ones to cancer. ‘Why not use our positive and kind words to heal and soothe a cancer survivor’ was our main idea behind organizing this event.

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We live in a world that is divided by race, class, gender, but in this divided world, kindness and hope hold us together. Cancer is a disease that has confused the entire world, and the world is fighting cancer together. The one common element we found in every cancer survivor’s story was their strength and their will power to beat the disease and come out of it stronger. We wanted to write letters to cancer survivors to salute their ‘never say die’ spirit.

Chemotherapy and radiation are treatments that take a toll on a patient not only physically, but also psychologically; in such a critical time, it means a world to have someone by your side, someone who will make you believe in your inner strength. Constant support and a few positive words can make a huge difference to someone who is going through so much pain.

We often hear people saying one must always follow her/his dreams, come what may, but not many of us actually have the guts to do it. One of the survivor stories we read went on to prove that if you are really passionate about something, nothing can stop you. This middle aged woman is battling breast cancer, her daughter, who had requested a letter, wrote, how her mother’s love for music helped her cope up with her chemo and radiation. Today her mother is a stage performer!

Another instance that was heartwarming, was watching a tiny 12 year old patiently writing as many letters as she could. The care, love and compassion with which she was penning down each letter and personalizing it, was really touching!

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The event that was a huge success, gave all of us a new perspective to look at this negative disease. Reading the stories of cancer patients and survivors made us realize that optimism, love and will power can move mountains! The positive outlook of these cancer patients made us reflect on how we unnecessarily crib about little things and blow them out of proportion.

In a world that is so self-centred, it was overwhelming to see so many people join us selflessly for a good cause. If there is one thing I’m sure everyone took home with them, it was a wider world vision. In this age of selfies, this event taught us to look beyond ourselves.

Multiple forms of Wealth

Here we are 3 and a half years since The Goodwill Tribe first started, and looking back, we had no idea we’d get this far. All we wanted to do was find a way to pump more love, kindness and connection into our world. We were often told that in order to stick around or scale we’d need financial resources. To keep it simple, we said to ourselves that we’d ask ourselves that question the day the need arises. Perhaps it has now, but, we’d like to share with you what we’ve discovered through our journey and the multiple powerful forms of wealth we have come to acknowledge.

The wealth of shared dreams
Everything started when Sonia reached out to Chandni with her big and beautiful dreams to spread kindness. Chandni sat back and listened amazed at how they were exactly aligned with their dreams. In the years to follow, their friends in other cities who also shared the dream started to align with us, bringing strength and scale to our cause. And then the community started to grow. We are now a team of about 35 people held together by the undeniable force of our shared dream.

The wealth of inspiration
Everything begins with a spark of inspiration. It’s never easy to pin point the exact moment, but it happened somewhere, because of someone, through something. It created that feeling that we all know so well, when the spirit is uplifted, the heart sings and the mind believes it can achieve anything. We found inspiration in the humble work of other people like Nipun Mehta, founder of Service Space, Sheetal Sanghvi, founder of The Urban Ashram, Hannah Brecher, the heart behind More Love Letters, Nivendra Uduman who threw a love letter writing party when we were in University and then went on to start Letter Earthlings, and so many other people. We’ve been inspired by all the content on kindness that is shared through the internet. We’ve been inspired by the million little moments of love and compassion we’ve witnessed in the world around us. And the list goes on, we feel so abundant in inspiration.

The wealth of time
Everyone on the team spends between 8 to 16 hours a month working on The Goodwill Tribe projects. They’ve chosen to be generous with their time and contribute it towards working for humanity. Everyone who comes for an event is taking time out of their lives because they believe in a better world. They’re taking time to deepen their inherent goodness, tap into their kindness capacity and connect with strangers. We appreciate the wealth of time that has been contributed to shape and sustain The Goodwill Tribe.

The wealth of ideas
We believe that reality is what you make it. And we’ve been exposed to so many amazing ideas of what our world could be. Our events have all been designed around rich ideas that have evolved in people’s minds. Each person in the tribe has astounded us with their creative ideas to inspire kindness and connection.

The wealth of community
At a Letter Earthlings event, we invite people to bring stationary from their own homes and they do! Sometimes we need help prepping for an event and reach out to the community. People respond, they turn up to help out. When we’re hosting an event outdoors it’s not surprising for people to come armed with a flask of tea and biscuits to share. We’re truly experiencing the power of community. This is what our world once was like, with people living together in close knit groups, where everyone took care of each other. We are aware of the wealth of community and are glad to watch it show its face, it is always guiding and supporting us with our intention and in our actions.

The wealth of technology
Our work has been possible only through the gift of technology. It is through the power of the Internet that members from 12 different Goodwill Tribe chapters around the world have come together on this shared mission. Many chapters have come into being because of a chance stumbling upon our website. Most of us have not met each other, yet are strongly connected through technology that brings us closer. We’ve got a Whatsapp group that is our channel for daily updates and stories. We use Skype to run our operations and on-board new chapters in any part of the world. We gather together on a monthly call on Zoom (a video conferencing software) to share stories, learning’s and inspiration. We bank on our Website and our Facebook page to get the word out about all of our events. Our blog is our voice to the world, it’s where we share the amazing moments we’ve experienced through our experiments with kindness and regular Skype calls and email ensures we are running operationally smooth. Beyond this, we believe that all these inspiring digital instances of kindness and compassion trigger many subtle and invisible ripples of goodness in the world!

It is only recently that we became aware of the multiple forms of wealth we have been tapping into all along, but it’s the thread that holds this blanket of compassion together. It’s a powerful thought to know that all of us are abundant in so many ways beyond financial resources. We feel full with all that we do every day.

We ask you to take a look at your life, and all the little pieces that make it what it is. Appreciate the wealth, you are abundant 🙂

 

Parcels, Post and Handwritten Letters.

When was the last time you wrote a letter to someone you love? When was the last time you wrote something that came straight out of that soft place within with no filters?

As I signed up to start the Mumbai Chapter of The Goodwill Tribe in Mumbai, I had one inherent feeling, I want to do more and give back more to life for all the abundance and gifts life gives me everyday! We, Grafleen and I, the organisers of the Bombay event organically picked the Letter Earthlings event to start the Bombay Chapter.
So we were asked, why this dying form of handwritten letters? We said, exactly why.

A handwritten letter apart from the satisfaction of knowing you’re making a close friend’s day with your efforts, science has linked expressive writing better mood, reduced stress and overall well-being. Apart from that writing a letter, putting pen to paper requires unplugging from all the technology you’re bombarded with! We all want to live in in NOW – well, here’s a secret! I discovered that letter-writing, just by sitting to write something special to someone – your thumbs won’t be able to scroll another one of those endless Facebook feeds which refresh by the second, hell you’d also have to put your texting and whatsapp aside to someone who actually will fill your mind space as you put your thoughts to paper! For those few minutes you’re in the NOW and nowhere else. I’m always craving for that ‘extra bandwidth’ and no I’m not referring to a slow Wifi connection. Go figure.

On 18th of March 2017, we kicked off the Letter Earthlings event and the overwhelming response to the event has me wondering – wow, how much love can we spread? The sky is the limit and more.

How did we go about it? We created events on Facebook, EventsHigh, Allevents, Little Black Book wrote about us, Mumbai Mirror also listed our event and we had a large turnout of about 20+ people and most of these were absolute strangers. So, in essence 20+ strangers came together to write letters to more strangers! The icing on the cake was the journo from DNA who turned up to take pictures and bytes, our little attempt will now probably make it to the papers, watch out for us!

Gratitude is such a powerful tool, it opens up the doors to the endless possibilities of the universe and I have to say all of this would be incomplete without Chandni and Sonia, the founders from Dubai – Chandni was there, helping us in the event. Thanks girls – for all the input, advice, ideas and for allowing us to run the event in a decentralised sort of way where we added our Mumbai flavour while retaining the overall feel of The Goodwill Tribe. Also Grafleen, my multi-talented co-organiser who designed artistic posters for the event, connected to DNA and Mumbai Mirror, organised the requests and so much more. We synced so organically while organising the event, it felt like we’d known each other for ages. More power to us girl, this is just the beginning!

Now for all you gifted people who attended, thanks for coming and making this extra special from Ravi who turned up very early and generously gifted us about 20 self-stamped envelopes, Harsh for helping out with some of the organising from space to table seating and then providing a request on short notice, Mann for wearing his Happy Hat, Shweta M, Shweta and Siddhant – the siblings, Prerna, Ujjwal, Tharangini and Anirudh, Ratnesh, Kavya and Harshita – the chirpy collegians, Niki and Shruti, Ashish – the composed writer, Suneet for his valuable feedback, Rashmi for helping us organise the letters with her neat labelling, Parthivi, Proscila, Bhavika for her post on Little Black Book which brought Grafleen and me together, Anubha and Ishita, Tejal and Priyanka – thanks you guys, for making our first event so special! All of your sharing and feedback is very important to us and we promise to keep you hooked. Watch this space for more!

The Goodwill Tribe and Letter Earthlings, thank you for inviting us to participate in a slice of immortality – long after we’re all gone, these letters will remain to be read, appreciated and preserved.

Must watch movies about compassion!

As the weekend is right around the corner, here are 5 movies about compassion you must watch!

1. The Good Lie : This is a 2014 American-Indian drama film by Margaret Nagle. The film follows the story of six siblings from Sudan who are trying to flee during the Second Sudanese Civil War. A kind employment counselor and the sacrifices of the siblings to keep each other safe, makes the movie a must watch! With three cast members who had actually witnessed the War, the film is an amazing journey about love, family and compassion.

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2. Schindler’s List : One of the most famous movies about Nazi Germany, Schindler’s List is a 1993 movie following the life of Oskar Schindler, known to have saved the lives of many Jews. Beginning as an unmoved member of the Nazi Party, Schindler is deeply moved when he sees the massacre following the emptying of a ghetto. He then turns into a protector of the Jews and tries to save more and more people till his last breath. What’s better? It’s a true story.

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3. Le Havre : Le Havre is a 2011 French movie that focuses on the life of an old couple – Marcel Marx and Arletty and their community. Life changes as a small illegal immigrant arrives in their lives. Based in the port city of Le Havre, the film shows the extent to which a society goes to be kind and compassionate towards an innocent child. Filled with funny remarks and great acting, Le Havre is a must watch!

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4. Pay It Forward : The life of 12-year-old Trevor McKinney changes completely when he receives a class assignment to do something that would change the world for the better. Inspired by the power of kindness, Pay It Forward is a 2000 American school drama that revolves around Trevor’s school project ‘Pay it Forward’. The project is designed to spark many moments of kindness by paying favours received forward to three others.It is a very emotional movie, so grab some tissues for sure! But it’s also something close to the heart of The Goodwill Tribe.

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5. Freedom Writers : Set in 1992, the movie is an adaptation of the life of a school teacher struggling to teach kids coming from racially different and violent family backgrounds. Released in 2007, the film follows Erin Gruwell and her class as they change from frustrated violent enemies to empathic and helpful friends. Guided by Gruwell, they identify their similarities and learn to be there for each other. Gruwell uses different techniques to bring together the divided group and what happens in the end is no less than a miracle. It is a definite watch for everyone!

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