kindness activist

kindness activist

Monday, May 30, 2016

Kiva Kindness - a REQUEST to YOU

While on vacation in India, we met women who make coir.  Coir is rope made from the “hairy” bits of coconuts.  These women MAKE COIR, with their bare hands.  All day.  Every day.  In the heat.  For VERY little money.  They MAKE ROPE.

Making coir (rope) out of coconut

The finished product
We were amazed and fascinated by our glimpse into their world.  We were so fortunate to be able to meet them and watch them work.  They are not a “tourist stop” in some Indian factory, there are real local women doing difficult work that were willing to let us peek in.  One woman even let me walk alongside her during one run of her rope making so that I could understand how the magic happens!!  (They wear big pieces of cloth that are stuffed full of the coconut fiber.  They hook a bit of fiber to a metal ring, pull a string that turns on electricity to start the ring spinning, then walk backwards (barefoot on a dirt floor) while easing bits of the fibers onto the spinning end.  Slowly, slowly the rope grows!!  The women’s faces lit up when they saw my expression of “OH!!!  NOW I understand how this is happening!!!” as I walked alongside my new friend.  They even handmade 2 small rope bits for David and I and tied them onto our wrists as gifts.

Busy making coir
Look what they made us!  We will always keep these pieces of coir

She let me "help"!!  Such an honor.  

We also met a man who runs one of many small BANANA stalls.  India has many different types of bananas!  In fact, one day we bought 9 different varieties and sat down with a local who we consider a banana expert, Prabeesh, and tasted each and every one of those 9 types and were thrilled!  Can you believe that in India they have an “after dinner banana”???  A RED banana?  They were delicious!  After our tasting, we blindfolded Prabeesh and had him taste each and try and identify them without looking – he got 7 out of 9 correct!

Banana shop man cutting
fresh bananas for us to buy

Prabeesh showing us his banana skills!

We met people who run tiny shops.  We met fishermen who own handmade boats and go out fishing, bringing back what they catch and selling it.  We met people who sit on the side of the road and sell vegetables, fruits, or fish.  We saw people using heavy irons filled with COAL to heat them, standing on the side of the road ironing clothes for others in 115 degree heat.  We saw people selling coconuts.  We met a man who is a “toddy topper” – he gets liquid out of coconut trees and it is drunk as a local liquor.  We watched people wash clothing by flogging it on rocks in streams and drying it in the sunshine.  We were driven in little auto-rickshaws (tuk tuks) by pleasant men.  We met men who roast spices then sit on the floor and use very loud machinery to mash the spices into powder form.  We rode in a bicycle rickshaw through the very bumpy streets of Old Delhi.  

Fishing with nets from a handmade canoe.  Many of the canoes are SEWN together - fascinating

See the hot coals inside this HEAVY iron?  It weighs around 20 lbs.
Spice grinding
Selling jackfruit

Working hard to iron clothes at the dhobi khana in Kochi

Fishermen bring in their nets in Varkala and sell the freshest fish ever
Friends fishing
Selling tapioca
Tuk tuk!

Clothes drying at the dhobi khana
Family fishing in a handmade ROUND boat
Toddy Topper!  He puts the "toddy" in the jug he is carrying.  The knives he uses for his work are strapped behind him
And all of this was very eye opening. 

We have been loaners on the micro-loan site KIVA since 2008.  Our first loan of $25 was to Emilio, a man in Bolivia who needed $400 to buy more supplies to make leather belts to sell.  Emilio paid his loan back in full, so we then re-lent our $25 to Ni Puto Arniati in Indonesia, who used the money (along with $475 in other donations) to buy piglets and pig food for her business.  She also repaid her loan in full, and we again re-lent our $25…  We have repeated that over and over for a total of 17 loans so far, and each and every borrower repaid us in full, slowly but surely, as they were able.  And each time our $25 re-appeared in our account, it was loaned with an open heart to the next person.

I always loved loaning money via Kiva, but our trip to India was the first time I TOTALLY UNDERSTOOD the seriousness and the value of the loans.  The people we met in India NEEDED the funding.  The average annual income of Indians is around $1,500.  Compare that to the median income of Americans – around $50,000. 

The Indian people we met were very hard workers.  They farm, they fish, they drive, they wash, they sell.  They are humble, happy people.  And meeting them in person has made me all the more driven to give what I can to them and others around the world via Kiva.  Kiva loans can change lives.  The borrowers never ask for much (by American standards) – we helped Waris in Pakistan to purchase a buffalo to get more milk ($1025 loan total), we helped Christopher in Kenya get $600 to buy more nails and wood to make chairs and beds, we helped Elya in Jordan in his quest to get $1475 to continue his study in Dental Science…  We did all of that $25 at a time.

So today I ask YOU to donate.  $25 is very doable to many of us. $25 is the equivalent of a few cups of Starbucks coffee or glasses of wine...  We are so fortunate in all that we have:  clean, drinkable running water, sturdy roofs over our heads, air conditioning, cars that run…  Sure, there are times when we wish we had MORE, but I think it would be safe to say that every person reading this entry has so much more than those asking for loans on Kiva.

Please take time to log onto  Set up a profile if you don’t already have one.  Look through the requests – trust me there will be some that you can relate to.  Choose a country.  Choose an occupation.  Find someone who you want to help.  AND DONATE.  Please.  Heck, it is not even really a DONATION, it is a LOAN.  Your money will most likely get repaid – one of our loans was in Sierra Leone, a country hit hard by the Ebola crisis, and the borrowers STILL managed to repay their $950 loan ($25 of which was from us) which they used to buy sticks to resell. 

To encourage you to participate, I am going to send KINDNESS ACTIVIST buttons to the first 5 people who make a NEW KIVA LOAN.  Just comment here and tell me about your new Kiva loan and I will contact you and get your address to send you your shiny new Kindness Activist button J .

Working together, we can use our good fortune to help others around the world.  $25 loaned to one person might seem like it is not much, but to them, it could mean the world.  THANK YOU for donating.

Go here to donate:  Kiva

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Pepper Kindness

We met some Kindness Activists last night that were so kind, I thought I was in a DREAM.

We are still traveling in India.  Yesterday we flew from Mumbai to the south of India (Trivandrum) and then took a car to Varkala (in the Indian state of Kerala).  Everyone in northern India told us how nice the people in the south were, and how much we would love it here.  Well, they were not exaggerating. 

A driver named Prabeesh picked us up at the airport and we hit the road for the 1.5 hour drive.  We talked along the way, he was a bit embarrassed about his English skills, but we think he is fluent and he had so many interesting things to tell us!!  As we drove along he talked a bit about the politics of Kerala (it is the only Indian state with a communist government, they were just re-elected this month for a 5 year term).  He also talked of religion, culture, the differences between north and south India, etc.  It was a very pleasant ride.

We were talking about SPICES, fruits, and vegetables that grow in the area, and he slowed down and pointed out a PEPPER plant.  Wait, what???  PEPPER, as in BLACK PEPPER??  Like, pepper that you shake on your dinner???  I had never stopped to consider WHERE PEPPER COMES FROM, and now that he mentioned it, I was extremely curious!!

He pulled the car over and said we could go look at the pepper plant if we wanted.  Yes, sir!!!  So we walked to the home where we had seen it, he asked us to wait outside the gate a moment, and he went in to ask if it would be alright for him to bring 2 foreigners into the yard to look at the plant.

Well, the woman, Sajitha, said sure, come on in and look.  She then proceeded to take us into the backyard and show us A GARDEN WONDERLAND of trees, plants, and greenery.  It was amazing!!  They had teak trees, sandalwood trees, pepper plants (which grow up the trunks of other trees), banana trees, mango trees, papaya trees, a tree that gives nuts that they make necklaces for priests out of, coconut trees, NUTMEG trees (nutmeg!!!), the list goes on and on.  The home is her mother-in-law's and she has won awards from the government for her organic growing. 

We walked all around the backyard, escorted by Sajitha, who explained everything to us.  When we ended up back in the front yard she said, "Would you like a rambutan??".  A rambutan is a funky looking fruit that is uncommon in the USA, but very delicious.  When we said yes, she proceeded to reach into a tree and pick about a dozen of them and hand them to us!  And they were DELICIOUS!!

Rambutan unopened, opened

Rambutan fruit removed and ready to EAT

We stood and talked a bit, Sajitha has very good English and her mother-in-law has such a beautiful smile.  They even INVITED US into their HOME!  She showed me their prayer room, which was such an honor to see.  They even served us, David, myself, and Prabeesh - three complete strangers -  TEA!!  We sat in their home, talked, and sipped tea.  It really was the loveliest, most kind welcome to Kerala that I can imagine!!  It was so heartwarming to be invited, without question, into someone's real lives the way they welcomed us.

They showed us a photo of Amma, an Indian Guru who I had read about and hoped to see on this trip, but I thought that would be impossible due to timing.  It turns out that Sajitha and her husband are followers of Amma and see her often, in fact they had JUST SEEN HER the day before!!  They talked to our guide (in the local language, so we did not follow the conversation) about how it might be possible for us to visit Amma and get a hug (she is the hugging saint) on our drive to the next city, so I think we will give that a try. 

They had let us taste a kernel of their black pepper while we were there, and it was so amazing.  So as we were preparing to leave, Sajitha offered us a BIG BAG of black peppercorns to take with us.  I was stunned - so much of India on this trip has been about people begging, people wanting tips, people talking of corruption, and here was a gentle woman offering us what they had explained was very valuable and referred to as "black gold".  They wouldn't even take our money, they offered the pepper to us as a gift.  Perhaps it was "dharma", and we will pass that dharma along as we share the bag of pepper with our driver.

You can't really get a feel for how BIG this bag of pepper is, but this
is HALF of it, after we shared it with Prabeesh!  So much delicious pepper!
As we left she told us that if we were ever in Kerala again, we should stay with them.  She made us feel so welcome to her country.  I hope that we meet again and that we can be as overwhelmingly kind to HER as she was to US.

Here we are!  Prabeesh is not in the photo since he was behind the camera :)
I almost forgot to give the family Kindness Activist buttons, so I grabbed them out of a suitcase and ran back to deliver them.  I hope they wear them with pride, because they most certainly fit the bill of KINDNESS ACTIVISTS!

Friday, May 20, 2016

Jaipur Kindness

We have a new KINDNESS ACTIVIST.  I cannot tell you his name, because he and I did not share a common language.  But when I saw him and his pals standing in the middle of a VERY BUSY round-about (traffic circle) in Jaipur, India handing out free cups of orange drink today, I knew I had to meet him.

Cold orange drink on a hot Indian day
There is a heat wave right now in India.  We are here on holiday and this is the HOTTEST heat I have ever felt.  It is a BIT cooler today -  it hit 111 degrees Celsius (44 degrees Farenheit).  But people are dying of heat stroke it is so hot.  And this in a country where most people do not have air conditioners, many people work OUTDOORS doing hard manual labor even through the heat wave, where there is a water shortage for drinking water, and the idea of having a SWIMMING POOL to splash around in to cool off is a luxury only tourists in fancy hotels can afford.

So the sight of these men handing out cups of bright orange drink to people as they paused in traffic - people in cars and on the millions of scooters/motorcycles that are around here, was beautiful!  We went up to our hotel room, watched the kindness in action for a few minutes from our window, then collected a Kindness Activist button and went down to thank him for his generosity.

Here he is - the mysterious orange drink Indian Kindness Activist (and David :)
As we stood on the our side of the street waiting for a moment to dart across to his side (traffic is INSANE in India!) he saw us (the only white people around at this time of year), smiled, and waved for us to c'mon over!!  We finally crossed and met him.  He didn't speak much English, and I don't speak any Hindi, so we could not have any sort of in depth conversation.  But his smile was very genuine and I told him as best I could that I thought was he was doing was VERY KIND.  I asked if he was selling the drinks and he and his friends all said, "No!!  No!!!  Free, free!" as they tried to hand us each one.  We hadn't intended to take any (we were not sure if the water they were using to make them was from sealed water bottles or tap water, and tourists are strongly advised NOT to drink tap water).  But they were so insistent that we take some, we each did (though we carried them away with us and didn't drink them).  Anyway, I could not explain the Kindness Activist project to him, but I DID give him his Kindness Activist button, which he proudly pinned to his shirt (then asked me if he had done it correctly, the same question I would have to ask if someone gave me a button written in Hindi, since I would have no idea if I had it upside down or not!).  I asked if I could take his photo and he was happy to oblige, then his friends also wanted to be in a shot.

These guys were handing out orange drinks, too! 
If you look closely, you can see the Kindness Activist wearing his new button!
So here he is!  I do not know his name but I know he is KIND.  Indians who follow the Hindu religion believe in doing kind acts for others (I think it is something like a mitzvah for a Jewish person), so maybe this was his "mitzvah" (I think the Hindu word for this concept is karma.  If anyone knows another Hindu word for it please comment here.)

Doesn't it look refreshing??
To learn more about India's water shortage, see this site:  India Water Crisis
To learn more about basic Hindu beliefs, see this site:  Hinduism

Bonus photo:  water is very scarce in India - it seems that there are many people in the lower castes (in villages) who do not have running water.  Here is a woman we saw recently in Agra carrying water from a nearby store's hose back to her house.  Seeing this was such a good reminder to be thankful for the convenience and the luxury of having clean, cool, potable water available at the turn of a spigot. 

Woman bringing two heavy buckets of water home.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Donation Kindness

Oh sure, I am an “organ donor”. I mean, I have the little box checked on the back of my driver’s license, like lots of people do, saying that when I die the doctors are welcome to whatever they can harvest. And that’s all well and good (and I TOTALLY ENCOURAGE EVERYONE to sign up to be an organ donor and make sure your family is aware of your decision).

BUT (and that is a big BUT…) – would I have the courage and kindness to be like Amanda Nicastro and donate an organ while I am still ALIVE?? That, to me, takes the question to a whole other level.

We met Amanda at the Orlando Fringe Festival when she was performing her show “I’m Just Kidneying”. We were lucky enough to see it and it really made me think a lot afterward. When I started this project about Kindness Activists, I knew I wanted to feature Amanda and have her share her story with you, so that you could be inspired like I was.

Amanda performing at the Orlando Fringe Festival
 Here’s the background: Amanda’s little sister has Focal Segmental Glomerulosclerosis (which, since I don’t want to try and spell that again, let’s just call FSGS). The first time she needed a kidney transplant, Amanda learned she was not a good blood match so couldn’t donate. However, their dad DID match so he donated HIS kidney. Unfortunately, 9 years later she needed another transplant.

Well, even though Amanda herself wasn’t a match, she explained to me, “More and more hospitals have started putting together “paired donation programs”. Basically through this program we were paired with another recipient/donor pair and we swapped kidneys. Sometimes the chains of people are very long. In our case it was a direct swap. We actually got to meet the other pair - a husband and wife. The wife and I were matches; she has my kidney. The husband and my sister were matches; she has his kidney.”

Did you follow that??? Amanda donated her kidney to a woman, and that woman’s husband donated HIS kidney to Amanda’s sister! It was like “musical chairs” with kidneys, only the result was good for EVERYONE!! I love it. What a concept!

:) - she is a kidney donor!!
A big piece of Amanda’s show that I took away and considered a lot was her perspective of “not being a hero”. She doesn’t look at what she did as heroic, she looks on it as just helping her sister. She said, “I love my sister. It was always a no brainer for me. It didn't require much contemplation. It was something I always wanted to do from the moment we realized that needing a transplant was in her future at some point. When I found out that I wasn't a match the first time I felt like I had failed her. I knew I really didn't have control over whether I was a correct match or not. But I felt like the one thing she needed the most at the time I couldn't do for her. FSGS sometimes goes into remission after a transplant and sometimes it comes back and affects the new kidney. Ideally, we all would have loved for the first transplant to be the only one she needed. But sadly, we don't have control over that either. Being a part of the transplantation process the second time made me feel like I had more purpose and that I was living up to the responsibilities of being an older sister. It felt really good to help.”

Amanda and her sister - Thing 1 and Thing 2
Now, a lot of us have sisters that we love, but to me THIS is not a “no brainer”! This is serious surgery and Amanda just rolled up her sleeves and jumped right in there! Fine if she doesn’t want to be called a hero, but she is sure as hell is gonna be called a KINDNESS ACTIVIST!!

When I talk with people for this project, I typically ask how they think the recipient of their kindness felt. I like to try and think of it from all angles. Amanda said, “I really don't know exactly how my sister felt. I think she appreciated it and she loves me, too. I remember her saying at one point before surgery she was really happy that through the paired donation program we were also helping someone else and that it wasn't just helping herself. I think the paired donation program is amazing for that dual purpose. Patients are receiving help but they are also making it possible for others to be helped as well. I think my sister is pretty awesome for being able to accept a kidney from a stranger so that someone else is helped by receiving my kidney.”

I agree – the whole thing is awesome. I didn’t know about PAIRED DONATION and I am really glad she explained it to me. It makes perfect sense and definitely seems to be the right way for medicine to move.

You would think a show about donating a kidney would be a serious affair, right? But Amanda’s take on it is funny, refreshing, and educational. I asked her about the show – why/how she wrote it, and how it went over. She said, “Honestly, I decided to write a show about it because a bunch of funny things happened during the evaluation process. One of them being I had to take a cooler full of my own pee on the subway. During evaluation you do a 24 hour urine collection and it has to stay cold until it gets to the lab for testing. I live in New York City and don't own a car so I had to take my cooler with the pee jugs in it on the subway. A stranger on the platform kept asking me what I had in the cooler. I thought it was just too funny of a situation. I wish I could say the main reason I wrote the show was to get the word out about organ donation, but it was more I thought I had a good story to tell that would make people laugh. It wasn't until after I started getting responses from others affected by kidney disease that I really thought about how much good the show could also do outside of just being entertaining.” Side note: I was quite embarrassed after getting this reply from her, because to tell you the truth, we had seen Amanda carrying around a prop for her show (the COOLER) and I remember asking my partner, “I wonder what that girl has in her cooler??”. Yup, I was like the annoying stranger on the subway platform.

And wouldn’t ya know, when I asked if there were other kind things she did, Amanda had more. Not only is she a living organ donor, but she has donated her hair to Locks of Love and has donated both blood and plasma. She said, “I have contemplated being a bone marrow donor. I tried to register online sometime last year but because it hadn't been a year since my last surgery (transplant) and I reported having hip pain (they usually take it from your pelvis) the computer program wouldn't let me sign up. I was a little frustrated but it totally makes sense that they want you to be completely recovered before having more elective surgery and to not possibly aggravate an existing condition. And of course, I'm a registered organ donor. So when I die hopefully my organs and tissue will be viable and I'll be able to help a whole lot more people.”

Amanda is now volunteering with “LiveOnNY”, a non-profit responsible for registering New Yorkers to be organ donors. I think it is so important to register to be an organ donor, and to talk about that decision. Amanda told me, “Oftentimes when I approach people I find that most are in favor of transplantation. But a lot of people, even if they look upon organ donation favorably, still haven't registered as organ donors simply because they don't want to think about their own death. Unfortunately, making the decision about being a registered organ donor does come with thinking about what your legacy will be after you die. I understand the fear and anxiety that surrounds all of that. Nobody wants to die and it can be unpleasant to think about. But I think being kind, living kindly, and doing acts of kindness depends on our ability to look at our lives and make courageous assessments of ourselves and being able to accept the realities of our world. Everyone dies. Everyone at some point is touched by death. Avoiding it might feel good in the short term, but avoiding it doesn't help ourselves and it certainly doesn't help others.”

So well put. So let me ask you, are YOU a registered organ donor? Does your family know that you are?? Please take time to think about it, register, and inform those who love you. You can find more information on organ donation here: here

I wish I could tell you that “I'm Just Kidneying" will be at a theatre near you soon so that you could see it. But Amanda has taken some time off to get married (congratulations!!) and work with her sketch writing partner. She is considering doing another tour of the show, so keep your eyes open for it. You can connect with Amanda on Facebook at , on her website at, or on Twitter @TheLastAmanda

Let’s give Amanda the last word here. “Being kind isn't about lofty ideals or grand gestures. It's simply living in the moment, accepting that the world is sometimes not perfect, and asking yourself, ‘What can I do right now, no matter how small, to make the world a kinder place for others and for myself?’ .”

Thanks Amanda – thanks for being such a force of kindness in this world, for sharing your story, and for working to ensure more people donate organs.

Bonus photo - Amanda getting married.  Congratulations!!

Friday, May 6, 2016

Cookie Kindness

Sometimes you have a crap day.  It happens to all of us.  Days when you are tired, cranky, and everyone is getting on your “last nerve”.  But sometimes, on the luckiest of those days, you meet someone like SALLY DUNNAWAY, and your attitudes shifts into GRATEFULNESS and HAPPINESS.

Yesterday I was having one of those days.  I had to get up super early.  I had a hard day at work.  I had a “to do” list that seemed to be 5 miles long.  It seemed like every single person I interacted with wanted/”needed”/expected me to solve their problems.  You know the kind of day I am talking about… 

It was 9:00 PM and we were out running errands.  We hadn’t even considered what we were going to make for dinner yet, let alone got around to cooking it.  We were checking out at Target when I heard this lovely question being asked from a woman behind me, “Would you like a cookie??”.

SAY WHAT??  I turned around to see Sally Dunnaway, a complete stranger, offering us Pepperidge Farm Mint Chocolate Milano cookies!!!  Ummm, you don’t have to ask me twice, Sally!  I’m in!!

SHE SHARED!!!!  Who could say no???
She had the nicest smile and was so kind to share.  I don’t think she knew what a hard day I had been having (I can’t remember complaining loudly while in line for her to over-hear, though I may have…).  But her simple gesture of opening a bag of cookies and offering them to us was SO APPRECIATED.  That one cookie (which turned into three cookies…) did so much to improve my attitude and my outlook!!

Here is Sally, the sweet, kind woman who turned my day around.  THANKS SALLY!
I told Sally a bit about the Kindness Activist Project and asked if I could write about her kindness.  She was a bit hesitant, saying that her actions were not 100% for the good of the people who she was sharing with, but also selfish in that if the cookies all got eaten she wouldn’t be tempted by them at home J.  It is so interesting – almost every time I ask someone if I can tell people about their kindness, they have some reason to negate their actions. “Oh, what I do isn’t really all that kind….”   “Welllll I do it for myself as much as I do it for others…” etc. etc. etc.  It reminds me of accepting compliments and how hard that is to do; to just listen to the compliment, accept it, and thank the person who gave it to you, without saying something that in effect diminishes it.

Sally, whatever the reason you offered us (and the cashier) those cookies, IT WAS KIND.  You made us smile.  You let us eat dessert first, which we loved.  You reminded us how easy it is to be kind to others. 

David rested and munched cookies in the closed Target Cafe
area while I ran back in and got an item I forgot.  :)
I gave her a Kindness Activist button and she pinned it on right then and there.  Sally, you are now an official Kindness Activist!  Thanks for making my day finish on a high (and tasty) note!!

Have you ever had someone do something kind like this to you?  If so, tell me about it!  Email me at .  Get involved.  Be KIND.  J  #kindnessactivist