Lessons in kindness

Written by Frances Gibson

‘A single act of kindness throws out roots in all directions, and the roots spring up and make new trees.’ (Amelia Earhart)

An act of kindness is like a small seed dropping to the ground. That seed is a catalyst, creating new life, gathering momentum as it grows from the spot from where it first landed. It observes the world around it while integrating into its surroundings, giving itself to the world. It forms friendships, and makes you feel welcome. It creates a sense of belonging; it makes you feel at home. A simple act of kindness is a very powerful thing. I learned this is in the Philippines.

Although the only word I could say confidently in Waray was ‘salamat po’ (Thank you), I felt a great connection to Northern Samar and to the people who lived there. This connection was forged through random encounters and simple acts of kindness shown to me by people I met each day. The first day I set foot in Onay, I was met with hello’s and smiles and nods from people and giggles from children. That day, I think a tiny little seed was planted in the ground where I stood. The next day, as I walked around the barangay (village), it grew roots. They burst through the souls of my shoes and walked with me as I met people and learned about their lives. As days went by and I watched the people play basketball in the centre of the barangay, throwing me a smile as they whizzed past with the ball, the seed sprouted. When a group of children shouted my name, it grew taller and began branching outwards. On the day a woman offered us a piece of jackfruit when we were hungry, the branches of the tree extended into my fingertips as I took the fruit and warmly thanked her for her kind gesture. More time passed and still it grew. The day that they hurtled us into the hut to protect us from the rain outside, I felt the tree grow out of the top of my head and leaves form a canopy, offering me shelter. When we came in from the rain to the smell of rice oozing from the kitchen, I think a leaf grew out of my nose.


Medicinal leaves

One act of kindness I experienced was from an older woman who invited me into her home. She insisted I had the only chair inside. I sat down. She had a bright pink plastic fan with an orange centre in the shape of a big bright flower. She turned the fan to face me and switched it on. Beside us, her daughter, who had given birth a week earlier, was laid on a wooden bed coughing, her newborn baby curled up beside her. As we talked, she told me that the 2015 Typhoon Nona had displaced her and her family from their home and that this was temporary, she was saving for somewhere new. Despite her struggles and hardships, she was willing to offer her chair and her fan and whatever she had to make a perfect stranger feel at home while hers had been destroyed. That day, my tree grew beautiful bright pink flowers. From these small, simple acts of kindness each day, something extraordinary had grown.

Maya Angelou once said, ‘I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.’ I remember some of the acts of kindness that I experienced. Most of them revolved around objects: a chair, a piece of fruit, a pink flower shaped fan, an open door, a table covered in bowls of rice. It is not in the simplicity of these objects, but in the goodness that took place around them that made something magical. I remember the kind smiles from people, the laughter, the singing, and the joking. I no longer remember everything that was said or everything that people did to show us kindness, but I remember the warmth I felt from all of the people who allowed me into their world and did whatever they could to show such kindness to a perfect stranger and make them feel at home.


Wonderful smiles from the children

Although I have left Samar now, I hope that the spot where I first stood has my footprints impressed in the earth. I take with me something very special; pink flowers, each one a reminder; to appreciate the extraordinariness of ordinary things, to always show kindness in the simplest of ways, wherever I may go.

Kindness is universal. You taught that to me, with small actions;
In the smiles that welcomed us to your community. In the
Nibbles you offered us; fruit and something to drink. It was etched in your front
Door, that you always kept widely open to an inquisitive intruder. It
Never was anything fancy or bold. It was in
Everyday objects that you made meaningful. And it was in the
Stories about your life that you bravely entrusted to us.
Salamat po! Thank you, for that.