Happy Universal Children’s Day!

In preparing for this post, I was determined to keep it positive. At the end of the day, there is nothing more amazing than children. Children are born perfect, pure, unbiased, without prejudices and full of unconditional love. Oh to stay like that forever!

As they grow, they watch and copy our words, our actions, our responses. They become exposed to a larger world, and to all kinds of beautiful experiences as well as risks and dangers. They are influenced by what they hear, what they see. They start making sense of the world around them in their own way, and according to their developmental stage. Their childhood experiences even determine their health as adults. Children who are exposed to abuse and neglect grow up to suffer increased risk of depression and other mental and physical diseases. They also often grow to replicate the same behaviour in others, not knowing better and sometimes unable to break the cycle.

Yet, how often we forget how important children are to our own and humanity’s future, and the future of the planet. We take for granted that teachers at school will do all the hard work and we don’t support or appreciate those teachers enough. We don’t provide enough opportunities for working parents to give children enough quality time. We make it hard for single parents and those who live under the poverty line to make a living and allow their children to enjoy their childhoods. We often let their voices be drowned in our everyday routines and negative narratives about how to raise them. We create gender and race stereotypes from the moment children are born, with colours and toys, cartoons and advertisements, and create a false sense of security by making parents believe that money, toys, and material things are enough to raise the human beings of the future.

And youth, we forget about the youth! We fail to inspire them, to give them hope, to guide them, to mentor them. We spend countless hours in front of our computers, phones, iPads, on social media, and forget how to make time for children of all ages. And they need our time. Being a child is very hard sometimes.

I want to keep this post positive, I do. I don’t want to bring up the suffering that many children around the world experience, I am not even going to talk about their rights. But I would like to remind us all that all children want and need is that we love them, that we believe in them, and that we hear them. They need that, and they deserve nothing less than that. It does not take very much either: reading a book with them, a nice walk in the park, 5 minutes of unguided play, making a cake together, drawing, listening, a hug, being fully present when we are with them… We have the power and responsibility to ensure the best possible childhood for our own children and must do everything we can to do the same for every child we come in contact with, and even those we can’t connect with directly, for example by staying informed about children’s issues and supporting organisations that exist to protect and empower children. Never forget, there is no such thing as other people’s children. They are all our shared responsibility, and joy. Children have so much to say and so much to teach us. Let’s listen. The world can stop for one day. Let children take over the world.  ♥

People are awesome and I have proof.

This is a story of loss: loss of possessions, loss of land, loss of entire towns and tragically the loss of life. It is also a story of hope, love, kindness and the incredible strength of community.

On the night of 8 October the worst fires in Californian history began burning. A week later they’re still burning – over 200,000 acres of land have been decimated, tens of thousands of people evacuated from their homes, and thousands of properties have been destroyed. Heartbreakingly, at this point, over 40 deaths have been confirmed. It’s hard to fathom the loss and devastation. It’s also hard to fathom just how quickly nearby communities jumped into action to help in any way they could.

This story focuses on the amazing love, support and kindness displayed by people during this time. There are many, many examples: of friends and neighbors opening up their homes to take in evacuees, of the unwavering dedication of incredibly brave firefighters, some of whom lost their own homes but kept on fighting to protect other homes and other people. In fact, there are so many that there wouldn’t be space here to talk about them all. Instead I will tell you about my personal experience of this love, support and kindness.

On Tuesday 10 October, I noticed my friend, Michelle Laker from Life in the Bay, was collecting donations for fire victims. I thought I would put a call out on my Facebook page to try and help. On Wednesday 11th, I asked the principal of my son’s school, Nesbit Elementary, whether we could post on the school Facebook page to ask for donations – and if we could use the school as a drop off point for collections. She responded with a resounding ‘YES!’, and on Wednesday night she sent out a school-wide email that ended up getting circulated to other local schools too. On Thursday the donations started to arrive:

Thursday afternoon

I started to realize the car-load of donations I had expected may be turning into a little more than that. On Thursday evening I heard reports of people from the wider community dropping off donations. By the time I arrived at 8:30am on Friday the pile had grown to this:

Friday morning

Not only that, but there was already a mom from one of the other schools waiting to help us sort through donations. I had to leave to drop my youngest at pre-school and was gone around an hour, by the time I got back the pile of donations had been organized into categories by an incredible group of moms who had also arrived to help. These ladies worked some kind of magic and from then on as donations came they were quickly sorted into their appropriate places, ready for distribution.

organizing

And the donations kept on coming. As the neat piles grew and were organized by amazing volunteers, so did my concern about how I was going to get this all to the distribution centers. I had initially planned to get one or two carloads of things and to drive them to Michelle’s house so she could distribute them. This was way past that now. I was worried about what to do if we couldn’t get enough drivers!

I had been in touch with a lady in our area, Krysten, whose husband had a large pickup truck that they would be driving up to distribution centers. She said I should bring some things to her house. I warned her that we had a lot and her response was ‘bring it!’. We did. My friend Nichole and I packed our cars full and drove them over. Krysten wasn’t perturbed, she felt she needed to help out and was going to do whatever it took to get supplies to where they were needed, even if that meant doing numerous trips over the weekend. This is not a short trip; we’re talking between 3-4hrs each time. After unpacking our two carloads of donations, Krysten told us to bring more and we did. By the time we got back her husband had arrived and decided he’d clean out a very large trailer they have and they’d fill that up too. Krysten drove back to the school to collect more donations to deliver.

Even though we had taken so many things to her place, by the time we got back the spaces where they had been were filled up with more. There was a constant stream of people coming in to ask what was needed and how they could help. N95 masks were in short supply in the area and we had asked if anyone could get hold of those. A short while later someone delivered a large crate full of them. We had asked people to stick to the donations listed and this is what everyone did. Not only that but people added small personal touches to them, such as the person who donated a pack of high energy snacks for the firefighters and handwrote ‘Thank you’ on each one.

The rest of the day continued in this way, a whirlwind of donations, and volunteers giving their time, their skills, their strength and their love. I had put requests out for drivers on the school Facebook page in the morning, and amazing people stepped up to help, but the donations just kept on coming. So on Friday afternoon I posted a request for drivers on our neighborhood website, Nextdoor. Within an hour I had so many drivers that I had to start turning them away. We stopped taking donations at 2pm and by 4:30pm on Friday afternoon, this was what the school hall looked like –

empty hall

Every single donation had been picked up by volunteer drivers and they were either already on their way to the distribution centers or would be heading there on Saturday morning.

Overall, I estimate that between 12-15 truck loads of donations were received and dispatched within the space of two days. The way members of our community came together to help blew my mind. I spoke to and met so many wonderful people over those two days, most of whom I had never met before, and every single one of them just wanted to help. Every single one of them was so kind. Every single one of them wanted to spread some love and some light during this hard time.

In the beautiful, historic town of Sonoma there is a statue of the community’s founder in the main square, which has been draped with signs thanking the firefighters for everything they have done. One of the signs reads, “The love in the air is thicker than the smoke”.

Right now, there are so many things happening around the world that can make it seem terrifying but this, this right here, is how we try to make it better. We come together to help each other wherever we can, we share what we have, we treat each other kindly and we love.

In the face of horror, choose love 💜

We, at Just Love, are devastated by the events in Las Vegas this past Sunday. We feel there is no room in the world, and in our hearts, for the kind of hatred and senseless violence that drives people to commit these acts.

We want everyone to remember to stay strong in the face of darkness, to not succumb to the kind of weakness that allows us to become desensitised to the suffering of others, nor to fear that which is different, or react other than with our hearts.

Our thoughts are with all that have been affected by these events in any way, and with those who have suffered at the hands of individuals that choose the path of violence, fear and division. We will not give in to hate, or apathy. We must stay strong and face these things with love. Just Love 💜

We need more glue.

I have just completed back-to-school shopping, which this year included getting glue sticks for my kids’ classrooms. First and second-graders go through kind of a lot of glue, and as I was unpacking a delivery box of about a million glue sticks, one of my sons came up, made big eyes and said “WHAT? How many glue sticks do we need???” to which I replied “Well, you know what, you can never have too much glue”. That’s probably not actually true in regards to physical glue, but there is, however, another kind that you can never have too much of.

At our wedding, the minister quoted U2’s Staring at the Sun, saying “There will be hard times ahead, but God’s glue, love, will help you stick together”. I thought that was beautiful. Whether or not you believe in a higher power, I’m sure you can agree that love is what keeps us together, in families, in communities, and as a world. And I am also pretty sure that you can also agree we need boxloads of it.

Today is world peace day, and to me peace, true peace, is love on a wider scale. It is safety, respect, equality, compassion, and freedom. The bad news is that these are all fragile things, which will inevitably get cracks, but the good news is that with enough glue, we can put them together again.

Another back-to-school activity for me is to help getting the art supplies for this year ready. Being in the art room, smelling the paint and looking at the master pieces the children will learn about, I realized that humanity actually has two kinds of glue: Love, and art. Most of us will never learn to love every single person on this planet, we will only truly love those in our immediate proximity, those whose stories we know. But that circle can get wider, through art. We might read an author, listen to a musician, a passionate speaker, view works of an artist, and over years of paying attention to a person whom we will never meet, we do learn to love them. Because they share their stories.

We learn of the stories of others in more ways, of course. Our compassion for victims of natural disasters, wars or persecution doesn’t come from cold, hard numbers, it comes from stories about individuals, or pictures of individuals. Any news team will try to interview survivors, bereaved families, first responders, people who can share their stories of what happened, because that’s how we connect. Story telling, sharing your truth, be it through talking, writing, painting, whatever expression you have, makes the world smaller, and glues us together.

So tell your story, and listen to the stories of others. In particular – find stories of people you don’t understand, people you fear, and try to see their humanity. The only way for leaders with malicious intent to stay in power is to keep us apart; to make us fear each other, to take away our glue sticks. But you can fight this. Be the one who keeps handing out new glue sticks! Keep loving, keep telling your story, keep listening to others. And if you have to – shout your words, listen harder, read more, love more.

Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with you.

Emily B.

 

‘Dear Stranger’, a personal letter from a refugee to all of us

Today is World Refugee Day. It is the day that we stand in solidarity with those around the world who are displaced due to conflict or persecution. It is the day that we reflect on their journeys to safety, remember the many that didn’t make it, either because they couldn’t leave or because their treacherous journeys took their lives. It is also the day that we celebrate the resilience of the human spirit, our ability to come through dark times and shine. Today I share with you Nahid’s dream for her family and her daughter. Nahid is everywhere, in America and in Europe, in Asia and Oceania, in Africa and the Middle East. Please, wherever you are, help the ‘Nahids’ in the world to see that we live in a world where love and kindness persevere.
♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥

Dear stranger,

My name is Nahid and I left my country with my husband in June 2014. I am a survivor of torture and violence. In September 2016, our beautiful daughter N. Zahra was born. I encountered multiple challenges during my pregnancy and delivery. I was unable to afford regular pre-natal checks and as a result developed gestational diabetes requiring emergency admission. Thankfully our daughter was born healthy and after a few days of hospitalisation I was discharged.

We are very grateful to our country of asylum, even though we are considered illegal migrants, without the right to work or study. After our daughter was born we grow more concerned about her future here and struggle to wait for resettlement as we see no future for her here or back in our country of origin.

Growing up my life has been hard. I was not allowed to finish high school or pursue my dreams to become a doctor. I was continually treated badly by persons close to me resulting in me having a miscarriage. I accepted it as my fate and I was not strong until I met my husband. Now with my daughter, this strength and renewed hope only grows stronger.

My husband and I don’t want our child to feel like a refugee or that she cannot achieve her dreams for a better future. She is born a refugee but we want our daughter to have options. Living here provides us with limited to no options. Zahra will not be able to go to school, she will not be able to have an identity, she will not be able to pursue her ambition, and she will not be able to work legally. My husband too works hard but struggles to provide for us financially as he is not allowed to work here legally. We want our daughter to be protected, have stability and an identity. We want her to have an equal chance as any other person in life.

I want to teach my daughter tolerance and to respect other people’s different views. I want to create a safe space for her where she can be who she wants to be even though she is a girl. I want to teach our daughter kindness and that she has the right to be respected and treated fairly. I want to teach our daughter to help other people and give back to society when she grows up. I cannot do this here, where we are, as here we are only surviving and feel like outsiders or that we don’t belong. My husband and I struggle to protect ourselves here, how can we be expected to create a safe space for our child? In my country and here at times I made to feel like a lesser human being; like I am not worthy. It is disheartening and I don’t want my daughter to grow up feeling the same.

My husband wants to further his education and despite having no opportunities to do so formally here, he has participated in as many courses as he could, organised by NGOs. It is still my dream to become a doctor and with the right opportunities, and despite my age I will pursue this dream in the health related field.

Both my husband and I are hard working people and strive to be contributing members to society. We want to teach our daughter these same values. When I first arrived I had repeated thoughts to end my life and although I am working on these thoughts, they do come back sometimes. But my daughter has given me renewed hope and makes us try to be better people and create a better life.

As we struggle to give her options and a safe place here, we ask that you help us give her these options and a safer place to grow up. We ask that you create the first opportunity for her to have a better life and to be treated fairly. We ask that you provide our daughter the platform to feel like a human being and that she is worthy to have an identity, basic human rights and the chance to pursue her dreams.

Yours sincerely,

Nahid

Some love for the press

Today is World Freedom of the Press Day, and that is not just another day. The freedom of the press, and the right to free speech with which it goes hand in hand, is a fundamental part of a functioning democracy, and an essential part of a free life.

The value of freedom of speech is impossible to truly understand for those of us who were born into it. If you have never lived in terror of speaking your mind, knowing that you would risk your life, and the lives of those close to you, if you would purposely or unintentionally utter something that could be interpreted as opposition, you might enjoy your freedom, but the true wonder of it is most likely lost on you. But we need to wake that wonder somehow, because otherwise we might forget to fight for these rights, thinking that they are somehow eternal by nature, and we might then also fail to safeguard those whose duty it is to exercise these right to the fullest.

Freedom never comes without a prize, and in many nations around the world, people are still bleeding for the right to speak. Native writers, and journalists from around the world, daily risk their lives in dictatorships, war zones, and undercover in dangerous groups in society, to bring us the truth. And while most Western countries do have formal legal protection for free speech, threats and violence against journalists and other truth-tellers from extremists is the sad and dangerous reality. Female news reporters and writers have also been particularly targeted in hate campaigns online, where threats of rape and violence have become part of their everyday lives.

Except for a few, journalists do not make a lot of money. Their job does not enjoy a particularly high status, instead we most often hear that “The media is biased”, “Nothing you read in the paper is true anymore!” etc. While the quality of the press in general might have suffered in the digital age (ask your parents how much they paid for news outlets every month a couple of decades ago, and compare that to what you are paying today – that gap has taken a toll), there are amazing reporters and journalists out there working exhausting hours, fighting to get time to work the long, complex stories and not the fast headlines, wanting the truth – not the quick break. They are immensely talented and intelligent, and could have taken up any line of work – jobs with less competition, and immensely greater rewards, but instead they toil, put their lives on the line, and get very little for it. I believe that they, at the very least, deserve our support.

If you believe that every man and woman is entitled to know the truth about their government, about how corporations around the world operate, about the legal system, about emerging diseases and treatments, about conflicts around the world, if you believe that democracy demands transparency and accountability, then you need to support the press. The truth has many enemies, and far too few defenders.

So how do we show our support? Freedom does indeed always come at a prize, and today I want you to do your part. Find a digital, printed or televised news outlet that you believe to be doing good investigative journalism, and PAY FOR THEIR WORK. Buy a subscription. Do you already have one? Buy one for a friend. Buy two. Buy four. Pay now, and be rewarded for years to come. And as rewards go, freedom is a pretty great one.

In closing, we want to send our love to the men and women in the media, and to thank them.

Thank you for questioning everything.

Thank you for protecting us, educating us, and entertaining us.

Thank you for diligently sorting through the immense universe of information, to present to us the things we need to know.

Thank you for keeping us safe, and our societies open, by holding those in power accountable.

Thank you for being so brave.

Thank you for the words that keep us free.

For love of home

Today I got to spend a couple of hours with thousands of wonderful people who had gathered to celebrate our home – the tiny blue speck on which we float through space, the tiny blue speck which is all we’ve got. Yes – it’s literally all we’ve got. There is no planet B, there is no escape route (yet), there will be no second chance. We have one shot. And we’re about to blow it.

Most days of the year this fact makes me terrified and miserable. The mindboggling resistance to facts that keep some lawmakers from taking necessary action, and the sad truth that others DO know where this car is heading but keep driving towards the brick wall anyway, makes my heart sink like a stone. But today, on Earth day, I chose to look to the helpers. I joined the inspiring crowds of young and old, men and women, who took to the streets of San Francisco (and other cities around the world) to make the case for earth, and for science – the structured study of our planet, everything on it, and the space around us. And I couldn’t help but feel that maybe we do stand a chance.

There are so many good people, there are such good forces at work, and these are forces to be reckoned with.

Can I ask you to join these forces, please? Can you start today? Decide that you will make one change in your way of life that will help our home, and stick to it. If you want to do more, please do, but make sure to do at least ONE thing. One is a thousand times better than nothing.

And also, most importantly, when you vote, remember that when it comes to environmental policies, you are not only voting for you. Do you really feel like you have the mandate to spend resources that your children and grandchildren might depend upon?

Are you not sure which environmental policies might be crucial to implement to save us, and future generations? Might I then suggest you just support them anyway? The expression “Better safe than sorry” has never been more fitting, because the “sorry” in this case would be a major one.

So why all this talk about earth on a blog about love? Because we have to love our little blue speck. It’s the home of all known life, so there can be no love without it.

And also, it’s the best speck ever.

Meet the heroes – Dian Alyan, GiveLight

Meet the heroes Just Love blog post pic

One of our aims at Just Love is to find the everyday heroes. They are among our neighbours, family, friends, and the people you walk past on your way to work every morning. They might be doing something huge, or something small – the main thing is they are doing something to make their community and our world a better place. We all have the power to make a difference and we don’t all have to do the big world-changing things (although those are awesome too!). Sometimes all it takes is noticing someone who feels unseen and giving them a smile, or taking the time to really listen to someone who needs to be heard. Taking the time to heal someone else, when you might be tired or hurting yourself, is heroic in a small, yet magnificent, way and it might stir rings on the water that carries your effort way beyond the minutes spent.

The news often makes us focus only on the negative, sometimes very scary, aspects of the world. In the face of these stories of struggle, of atrocities, of greed and selfishness, it’s all too easy to lose hope, but losing hope is not an option. Losing hope doesn’t move us forward. Let’s focus on the helpers and acknowledge them as heroes, and then – let’s become them.

We heard about today’s hero, Dian Alyan, through the wonderful Life in the Bay blog, which provides advice and assistance to newcomers to the San Francisco Bay Area. The incredible team at Life in the Bay are working to help everyone, including refugees, feel at home in the Bay. Check them out here http://www.lifeinthebay.org Thank you Life in the Bay and Gita Arimanda, the author, for letting us share your inspirational piece.

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Originally posted on lifeinthebay.org on April 13th 2017.

‘See you tomorrow’ the text from Dian read. Dian Alyan is a founder of GiveLight Foundation, a global non-profit organization that takes care of orphans who are displaced by natural disasters, extreme poverty, and conflict conditions around the globe.

The next day, Michelle and I knocked on the door of GiveLight’s office and were welcomed by Safaa, one of two GiveLight staff. I asked whether it was okay to bring my 3 month-old baby in with me for the interview and she said, “Sure! Taking care of orphans is our passion. Of course children are welcome here.” We stepped into a 250-sqft, Moroccan-style room with a red carpet and pillows on the floor. “Please make yourself at home. Our office is quite small because we want to save the money for the children instead.” Not long after, Dian came to greet us. She fixed us some black tea and a platter of oranges and grapes. Moments later she was sharing her touching stories.

How GiveLight Started

Dian studied engineering in college and was working for Procter&Gamble Indonesia. She worked on some successful marketing campaigns even though she was only in a junior role. She was promoted to a global assignment and moved to Cincinnati, where she would later met her husband. ‘All out or nothing’ has always been her motto. Yet after having achieved so much in her career and financial stability, she grew restless. “I was done chasing the worldly affairs. They didn’t fulfill me. So I quit.” When she went on pilgrimage to Mecca, she prayed to God for two things: to be a mother and to have a sense of purpose. “God answered both of my prayers.”

In 2004, a massive earthquake happened off west Sumatra. It sent deadly tsunami waves from the Indian Ocean that decimated the shores of several countries. Aceh was the hardest hit province in Indonesia with the waves killing roughly a quarter million people. “I lost 40 relatives because of that disaster. I saw children losing their families,” Dian’s eyes grew a little misty. However, she did not dwell on her personal loss. “It was heartwarming to see the outpouring condolences. But tears and words are not enough. We had to do more.”

Dian started building a solid business plan for the orphanage and with the help of local volunteers in Indonesia, it was completed in a mere 7 months. Project Noordeen, as it was called, was named after Dian’s great-grandfather who has inspired her in many ways. He freed the people from the Dutch colonization in the 1930s and cared for many orphans in his village in Takengon, Aceh. The 3,000 sqft of land where the orphanage was built was generously donated by Dian’s family. Clearly, altruism runs in the family.

GiveLight Going Global

Dian said in a previous interview with Mercury News,

“I’m going to do for orphanages what Conrad Hilton did for hotels. I’m going to build the best orphanages in the world, and my clients are going to be the poorest of the poor.’’

In December 2005, 50 children moved into the first home, Noordeen, and GiveLight has expanded globally ever since. Their second home was built in Pakistan and followed by Bangladesh and then eight other countries. Currently, they are building their latest home in Morocco, named ‘Maison de Lumieres’ which means the House of Lights. This orphanage was adopted by the USF architecture department as one of their community service projects.

To Dian, a saying of the Prophet has always resonated with her throughout the GiveLight journey.

“I and one who takes care of an orphan will be like this in paradise” and the Prophet points to his two fingers joined together.

She believed in the goodness of others, which has been proven in the sheer abundance of help that people have poured into GiveLight. None of the lands in those eleven countries was bought. Everything was donated. “When it comes to GiveLight, I don’t ask people to give their money. I tell them the story and they come to help unasked.” Dian organizes a wide array of events to fundraise for her orphanage, ranging from ladies nights, global bistro showstoppers, and poster competitions for children. The funds collected almost always surpass expectation. The children in Granada School held a “Help Club” by selling T-shirts and movie tickets. They managed to pool roughly $11,000 when the expectation was that there would be a few thousand dollars. All the winners of the poster competitions even donated their award money back to GiveLight, and then some more.

Making an impact around the world…and at home

Dian’s creative ideas in marketing and event branding, combined with the generosity of the community, have changed the lives of more than 800 orphans in eleven countries. GiveLight not only provides food and shelter for these young orphans but also nurtures their young minds. GiveLight aims to provide world class education to the orphans, and at a minimum, to get them to finish high school. Five children from its earliest residents in the Aceh home have now gone to college. Donors are welcome to donate to an existing scholarship fund, but they are also encouraged to establish their own and designate it to the country of their choosing.

Apart from the global impact that GiveLight has made, the Bay Area is after all where we are focused. GiveLight is currently providing scholarship and a mentoring program to 13 orphans who have fled the conflict in Syria and are currently settled here.

GiveLight is also supported by big corporations in Silicon Valley that will match their employee donation. Some of them include Google, IBM, Kaiser Permanente, Microsoft, Paypal and many more. If you are interested in the events being held by GiveLight, you can check our their Facebook page or be a donor and join their cause in making the lives of orphans around the world a better one.

For further information, or to get involved, you’re welcome to contact GiveLight directly at info@givelight.org

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If you know of anyone doing something to make a difference in your community and would like to write about them – or would like us to know about them – please get in touch by clicking on the Contact tab.

About Gita A

I have spent one third of my life away from home. I was born and grew up in Solo, Indonesia. After high school, I took my business degree in Nanyang Technological University in Singapore where I met my husband. Eight years later, we moved to the Bay Area when my husband was offered a position at Google. Moving to the other side of the world was not an easy task. Struggle was of course a part of it, and I have my ups and downs. Slowly but sure I find new friends along the way and life is getting more colourful each day. I know that my story is not unique. I’m glad to join the LITB team and I hope that our stories can help those who find themselves a thousand miles away from home feel not alone. We are in this together; and we, as a community, can grow stronger.