Number 8 – Litter picking

Today I picked up all the litter in a park close to where I live. Parts of it are quite looked after, but other parts aren’t so nice because of rubbish which has blown there. I worked for about an hour and got a bag or rubbish as well as a box of recyclable materials.

I also found a letter from a son to his dad asking why the dad left him and whether he loves him and why he did certain things. It was quite moving. I’d love to be able to help people like him or families who are having difficulties. My partner and I are hoping to join an organisation -‘Big Brothers, Big Sisters’ – where you are a voluntary mentor for ‘medium-risk’ children, so hopefully in the near future we will actually be able to give some support and compassion to someone who is perhaps in a similar situation to that boy.

Number 7 – Gave a hitch hiker a lift and lunch

Today, 19th February, I was on my way to work in a town about 20 minutes away. I saw a hitch hiker and picked him up. He was very grateful, as he said he had been standing there for a couple of hours already. We got talking and he mentioned he was looking forward to getting to his destination as he hadn’t eaten for a couple of days (he wasn’t hinting at anything), but then later in the conversation I found out it was ages away and he probably wouldn’t get there until this evening (this was shortly after 9am), so we stopped off at a petrol station and got him to choose a few food items. He was very reluctant to, but I insisted it was ok.

I asked him where he wanted to be dropped off but he wasn’t sure where he needed to go, he had a location but wasn’t sure where it was. Cutting a long story short, we drove out of that town for 15 mins, then had to come back because it was the wrong way after all. By then I was late for work, so I apologised for not being able to help more but said I would drop him off at the tourist information where they would be able to get him a map and hopefully his next ride would be able to take him nearer to his destination.

Even though I couldn’t help as much as I wanted, I am glad I could help him get a bit closer to where he was going. He said he was trying to get to a good friend of his who was dying, so I hope he gets there in time.

Number 6 – Started a charity

As of the 16th of February I have began the process of registering to start a charitable organisation. The charity involves working with supermarkets who provide food and hygienic boxes which can be purchased by customers and then donated at a collection point within the supermarket. I will then collect the donated food and products and distribute them to people in need of them. It is not means tested. The people it is particularly aimed at helping is homeless, unemployed people, but any individual in need is able to use the service. I am thinking about maybe introducing the idea of ‘paying it forward’, whereby recipients of donated products are asked to do something good to/for another stranger, to pass on the kindness. This will be based on trust, rather than needing proof, but will then create a flow of compassion from donors to recipients to others.

I will keep updating this post as things progress.

22 June 2014: Things have evolved somewhat differently, but I am actually very pleased with how things are working. Instead of starting my own charity from scratch, I have joined with an existing charity, Hamilton Homeless, to extend their reach and services. They are mainly based in the CBD of Hamilton New Zealand, and their main function is to provide a warm meal to homeless and needy (they also offer clothes, sleeping bags, and other help where they can). As well as cooking and serving food, I have been helping some of the patron create CVs and prepare for employment.

Now, my role has been extended, and I am to start my own meal serving in one of the suburbs (a challenging area with a lot of poverty, gang affiliations and other reasons to try and help people). I have a team eager to help me, and a plan to not only offer food, but listen to individual needs and see where I can help them be met. We already have resources to offer information on money management (after some of the patrons brought it to my attention that it is an issue for some of them), and the team and I would really like to become more involved in helping them access jobs and services (welfare, mental health and addiction support, medical care, etc).

Finally, this morning I put myself forward as an outreach person for some men who have just been released from prison and who would like to get their lives back on track. I am really excited about this. I am sure it will be challenging and rewarding.

Number 5 – Gave baby stuff to a to-be mum

So far, I have given all of the things my daughter has outgrown to people or charities. I was lucky enough to be given nearly all the stuff she has for free through the generosity of others, and it seems only appropriate to pass them on to others in the same fashion. There was a to-be mum in a village an hour and a half away from me looking for baby things, so I got a big box together of what I have left and took it to her as I was passing that way a couple of days ago. She looked very young and was clearly not well off, so I am glad I was able to help her out, even if it was in a minor way.

Number 4 – Bought a lottery ticket for a homeless man

I was walking down the road and a homeless man in a wheelchair started telling me that the lottery is up to $8.5 million. He asked me what I would do if I won, and when I asked him the same question he replied ‘well, what couldn’t I do!?’ and sighed. He told me I should buy a ticket and then I might win. As I walked away he stopped another stranger to tell them about how high the lottery was.

So I bought a ticket, as he suggested (I have never bought a lottery ticket for myself before). But I gave it to him. When I gave it to him he couldn’t believe it was for him, he was literally speechless. So I wished him luck and walked away. I hope if he wins he can get a pair of functioning legs and a home.

Number 3 – Offered to lend to a stranger

This one happened accidentally (between 7th and 8th of February), but I decided to count it. I was looking through Freecycle ‘wanted’ posts and saw a family seeking a 4-person tent so they could go on holiday. We still use ours, so it was not available to give away, but I offered to lend it to the family. I did not realise how much my offer would move them. In the end they received a tent from another source, but my offer made them very happy, and the fact that it made them happy in turn made me happy. I feel so amazed and inspired that what I thought was a very small gesture could actually make such a big difference to how others (and then myself) felt. Yay!

Here is the correspondence:

Me replying to advert:

Hi there, we haven’t got one to give, but if you don’t have any luck getting replies you are welcome to borrow ours. It is in good condition, no leaks or anything. It has 2 rooms and an entrance bit. Let me know, Camilla

Their first reply:

Hi Camilla. I am beyond words at your kind offer. I will wait a wee while and see what eventuates regarding a tent. If I have not luck at all I will contact you. In this day and age I do not find many people with your generosity. You have a really nice day. Anita. 

Their second reply:

Hi Camilla, I am just letting you know that I was given a tent today so will not be taking you up on your kind offer. Thanks for your thoughtfulness though. Take care and have a magic day Anita.

 I am so moved by these kind words.

Number 2 – Regular donations to Greenpeace

On Friday the 7th of February I gave a one-off larger donation and signed up to give regular monthly donations to Greenpeace. I chose Greenpeace because I care passionately about the environment and believe they do a good job at raising awareness about different environmental issues. They are a huge organisation, very well known, and have a lot of lobby power in governments throughout the world. As such, I see them as being in a great position to help protect the natural world. I am particularly happy to support them because they are quite radical, but also committed to non-violent protest.

Number 1 – Regular donations to Oxfam

On Thursday the 6th of February 2014 I signed up to give a regular donation to Oxfam. This is the day I see as the official start day of the challenge. No particular reason, just that is when I thought about doing it, so that is when I started. It was originally going to be 30 good things in 30 days, but I want to make it a bit longer-lasting.

Even though I said this challenge is done on a budget, I also do want to give a certain amount of money. I have always given 10% of my earnings to charity, and because my income has been erratic until now, my regular donations to charities have made up a small proportion of my total donations. However, as I am about to start a job with a more regular income, I also want to give more regular donations.

Oxfam is a charity whose work I have a lot of respect for. While they are not as well known here in New Zealand as perhaps some other countries, I became very familiar with their amazing work while growing up in the UK. They do incredible things to help people in poorer countries: not just giving emergency aid, but also helping people increase their resilience and become self-sufficient.

My idea – 100 altruistic actions in 2014

My 2014 Challenge

I have had an idea and want to write it down so I can keep track of it, so have created this blog.

My motivation to do this is that I hold a great deal of love for people and the planet, but am also very frustrated by social and environmental injustice. I believe every person can create change, and already try to live in a way that is environmentally-considerate and compassionate to others. But I want to do more.

So I have set myself a challenge: to undertake (at least) a hundred different altruistic/pro-active actions this year.

Some are going to be bigger, some are going to be smaller, but they have to be out of my ordinary routine to count (with possible exceptions, but it cannot be something that is already an everyday norm of my life). The actions have to be pro-active, not passive. And shouldn’t have direct benefits to me.

My aim of this challenge is to do good things… that help people, the planet, or at least bring a happiness and spread love to others. My ‘philanthropic vision’ is on quite a small budget, so I suppose I also want to see that it is possible to create change even without having huge resources available to you.

I am not doing this with an expectation of this ever being read. I am not doing this because I want to be seen as a ‘good person’. I just want to see how easy or hard it is to do positive things for people and planet a) regularly and b) on a budget.

If there is anyone reading this, thanks for taking the time.

Actions so far

(Individual posts can be found easily by searching for the desired number using the search box to the right of the page)

1. Regular donations to Oxfam

2. Regular donations to Greenpeace

3. Offered to lend to a stranger

4. Bought a lottery ticket for a homeless man

5. Gave baby stuff to a to-be mum

6. Started a charity

7. Gave a hitch hiker a lift and lunch

8. Litter picking

9. Voluntary essay marking

10. ‘Do Lent Generously’ challenge

11. Free C.V. and cover letter proof-reading

12. Cake for SPCA volunteers

13. Helping people with ’emotional baggage’

14. Intellectual disability befriending programme

15. Spread the altruistic actions challenge

16. Saved a hedgehog

17. Rehydrated a homeless man

18. Donated to an eating disorder charity

19. Sweets for special needs children charity

20. Earth hour

21. Thank you letter to rubbish collectors

22. & 23. Donations to Oxfam & paying it forward

24. Cards for people in hospital

25. Supplies for daycare centre

26. Baking for (140) people

27. Breakfast for a homeless man

28. Give lots of stuff to a charity shop

29. Signed petitions

30. Helped promote peace

31. Care package for someone in need

32. Set up stall with free plants

33. Thanks and Easter wishes to people who help the community

34. Supported an animal welfare centre

35. Wrote to someone living in a war-zone

36. Became a penpal with someone in prison

37. Sent a surprise to my ‘sponsor child’

38. Worry dolls for anxious people

39. Warm drink on a cold night for a homeless person

40. Served at a soup kitchen

41. (Further) reduced the ecological impact of our household

42. Cooked food for a soup kitchen

43. ‘Bring Back Our Girls’ campaign

44. Encouraged bees

45. Donation to Alzheimer’s research

46. Motivation for people with mental health difficulties

47. Planted trees

48. Adopted a cat

49. Wildlife-friendly garden

50. Free fruit for neighbours & hospital

51. Pushchair for mama-in-need

52. Employment help for unemployed

53. Warm clothes for homeless friends

54. ‘Random Act of Kindness’, passed on a parking permit

55. Medicine money for a stranger

56. & 57. Found a home for a couple sleeping rough & home-starter pack

58. Facilitated volunteering to help a refugee family

59. Set up soup kitchen events in my local area

60. Created a pro-bono initiative at work

61. Helping getting gardening into school curricula

62. Picked up, sorted and distributed large clothing donations

63. Created a Sustainability Policy and action plan for a charity

64. Became regional co-ordinator for the Sustainable Business Network

65. Promotion and public communications on behalf of a poverty relief charity

66. Fundraising for breast cancer awareness and research

67. & 68. A lift for a stranger & money for medication

69. Support for the Green Party

70. Set up a recycling and composting initiative at daycare centre

71. Started the process of becoming a foster/adoptive parent

72. Write Oxfam New Zealand’s environmental education material

73. Branding and marketing work for a charity

74. Conservation volunteering

75. Created a waste minimisation strategy and applied for funding, for Hamilton Homeless Trust

76. Treats and educational materials for children on Hallowe’en

77. Donated my hair to make wigs

78. Registered as organ donor

79. Free rice for hungry people

80. Helped give someone a hand with costs of living

81. Reuniting a family

82. Joined TimeBank

83. Promotional work for Oxfam Unwrapped

84. Ecologically-conscious gifts as Christmas presents

85. Offset my carbon footprint

86. ‘Adopted’ an orangutan

87. Voucher for presents for a struggling family

88. Extra volunteering during the holidays

89. Joined the couch-surfing community

90. Secured land and wrote proposals for a community garden project

91. Shoebox-full of presents for a child in need

92. Registered as a blood donor

93. Weekly food donations

94. Financial donation to UNICEF

95. Tokens of appreciation for people working in the community

96. Environmental awareness in child care centre

97. Advocating for living wages (and working to get them for underpaid staff)

98. & 99. Fundraising and promoting alternatives to meat

100. Commitment to new challenge

101. Giving my daughter’s cloth nappies away, to be used by someone else

Note from half way through the year and challenge

I am finding it more and more difficult to decide what I count as acts. I find that I now want my acts to have tangible greater and/or long-term societal or environmental benefits, and where I am uncertain these will happen, I don’t (or rarely) count them. I am aware this is a flawed idea. Many acts (e.g. random acts of kindness, raising awareness about issues and campaigns, etc) can lead to change directly and indirectly and to not count them suggests they are not of value (even though they are actually of great value).

I suppose I am wishing to see or feel the change my actions are creating, and so by not counting ones where I don’t see the change they create, I am pushing myself to think of new and bigger ideas. However, I am discovering that often -though not always- the most effective actions and projects are those that I have made long-term commitments to (e.g. intellectual disability befriending programme, soup kitchen charity), and I have to make sure that I do not take on additional commitments to increase my number of actions at the expense of the projects for change I am already committed to.

Reflections at the end of the challenge

I have learnt that there is lots and lots you can do without giving money, but also that sometimes donating money to (carefully selected and researched) charities is good, as they have lots of resources available to them to affect big changes. I have learnt that doing one-off volunteering is greatly appreciated and useful to the group you are helping, and that being a predictable and reliable volunteer is utterly invaluable.

I have learnt that even when you are really, really busy, there is still time to do positive things in your community (really!).

I have learnt that to be pro-active and contribute positively to the community sometimes happens spontaneously, but sometimes you need to actively search out opportunities. And sometimes you do something positive/pro-active but then it leads to nothing. But while this is very disheartening, it definitely does not mean it is not worth doing/persevering.

I have been challenged to find 100 different actions to complete, because there appears to be only so many things you can give (your money, your time, your possessions – all of these are finite. And what else? Organs? … My partner drew the line when he saw my application for an altruistic kidney donation. Of course I am sure there are other categories of things to give, but you have to start getting creative).

Most of all I have learnt to not underestimate even the smallest actions. Deciding what to count has been an on-going internal debate. There are many actions (and mini-actions) that have not made it on to the list for a variety of reasons. I know that throughout this challenge I have not given justice to the idea of random acts of kindness but these are hugely important, because by themselves they may only affect a small number of people, but they have a huge ripple effect: with one small act inspiring kindness in others and so forth, the whole world can become kinder, more compassionate, and gentle.

Finally, I am so moved the number of people reading and following this blog. Honestly, I never thought it would ever be read. But it has been. I have been inspired by the comments I have received and it is wonderful to know there are so many people that care about different issues and causes.

Thanks and aroha nui – Camilla x

The blog for my 2015 challenge: