I’ve received many messages and emails over the past few months that have completely blown me away. The kindness and care that you have all bestowed upon me during these very difficult months has been utterly overwhelming, and I’ve been so honoured and comforted by your response to my openness in sharing what I’ve been going through. My gratitude reached a pinnacle when I received this month’s travel link-up email from Emma:
“You may know that our lovely co-host Polly has been going through a really tough 9 months, and as an antithesis started her #spreadalittlesunshine campaign on social media to encourage people to carry out acts of kindness.
She doesn’t know this, but we thought it would be nice to have a TravelLinkup side challenge – we would love you to join in spreading a little kindness. You don’t even have to share what you’ve done – or you can to inspire others.”
I opened the email shortly after another hospital visit where I’d learned yet more bad news. Despite the fact that I had been told ten days previously that I was in the clear, the cancer had not spread and no further interventions would be necessary, the doctors that had reviewed my case at their medical board meeting had overruled this decision, concluding that, due to the nature of my tumour, I should have some Radioiodine therapy, ‘just to be on the safe side’. This is a decision that I’m entirely in favour of if it improves my prognosis, but a bitter pill to swallow all the same when I thought that the blows that life had smacked me with over and over during the past nine months were finally in the past. I was more than ready to move on from this nightmare.
Emma’s cheery words consoled me, and instead of wallowing in my misery, I got up out of bed, put the kettle on and started to look forward to hearing about everyone’s positive travel stories and acts of kindness in this month’s travel link-up.
Positivity has a funny way of breeding more positivity doesn’t it? An unexpected compliment can brighten your day. Witnessing an act of kindness can restore your faith in humanity. Reading positive quotes and self-help books can change your mindset, and eventually, your life.
I’ve spoken before about the importance of travel for your mental health, but let’s spin this on its head for a second and talk about the importance of travel for others’ wellbeing.
Just over two decades ago, I took a Teaching English as a Foreign Language course, packed my bags, and headed off solo around the world to teach English to children in an orphanage for a few weeks. My destination was Sri Lanka, a country still reeling from the after-effects of a devastating tsunami that had ravaged the land, destroyed whole settlements and ripped families apart the year before.
Sounds pretty noble right? Well, not entirely. My intentions for this period of travel weren’t completely altruistic. I needed an escape from England; a failed relationship which had dented my confidence and broken my spirits; a disappointing first year at University which had left me deflated.
I had viewed it as a nice, quiet period for some deep introspection, and was entirely taken aback when it offered me the complete opposite. Instead of looking inwardly to my own problems, I couldn’t stop looking out at the people around me in awe. Witnessing the brave children that I was teaching face life with enthusiasm and cheer despite having experienced the hardships they had in their life was awe-inspiring. Most of them had no family. All of them owned nothing but the clothes that they stood up in. I quickly learned what adversity really was, and almost overnight developed a deep sense of shame for allowing such trivialities as a broken relationship and difficult year to break me. These kids taught me something new every day.
As I headed home, I hoped that I had managed to leave something behind, that my time and attention had left them with something too.
It was unsurprising that my career took the path that it did. Inspired by the people I had met and the stories I had heard in Sri Lanka, I took a Corporate Social Responsibility Masters, and later on when I arrived in Qatar, I landed a job as CSR Communications Specialist for the World Cup Committee. Exactly four years ago, almost to the day, this role saw me heading out to Brazil to watch the World Cup alongside a number of inspirational young Ambassadors to our programme, which was teaching vital leadership and development skills to youth in disadvantaged communities across Asia.
As we discussed important life and leadership skills with them, these boys and girls consistently reminded me of the children that I had taught in Sri Lanka. They had a spirit of positivity about them which said, ‘No matter what my background is, I will not let life break me’.
This year, I watched on as those ‘children’, who are now young men and women, took a lead role in leading and delivering the same football for development programme in Russia which they took part in as participants four years before in Brazil. I can’t tell you how proud it made me.
My trips to Sri Lanka and to Brazil could both be viewed as acts of kindness. I wasn’t travelling for the sole purpose of leisure or self-indulgence. I was working hard on both occasions, for other people in less ‘privileged’ circumstances. Yet both times, I returned home feeling like these individuals had far more than I’d ever had. Materialistically they were comparatively worse off, but in stark contrast, their wealth of spirit was immeasurable.
Success in life should not be measured by your job or income, your possessions or home. It shouldn’t be measured by the number of holidays you take or how many designer labels are hanging in your closet. It should be measured by the number of friends you have and lives you touch. The way that you give back and the positivity you spread.
My friend Binny is someone who inspires me with her positivity every day. Recently, she sent me this photo taken by her dad in Kenya. He regularly buys icecream for the kids at a local rehabilitation centre that provides a safe home for kids rescued from the streets, orphaned or whose parents can no longer care for them. One day, when I was having a particularly low moment, she asked him to buy them some and say that they were from me. Their gratitude was apparent!!!
And so was mine. So much so that it inspired me to read more about the organisation and after hearing about the amazing work they are doing, I decided that I wanted to donate. I am sending money over via Binny’s dad to sponsor one of the children. I’m hoping I’ll be able to visit one day.
That’s the funny thing about kindness. Like positivity, it spreads like wildfire.
I would love you to join in, and help to #spreadalittlesunshine too! I challenge you all to do one act of kindness over the next week, and watch it come back to you. Let me know what you did and what the outcome was!
Help someone to remember, just like I needed reminding, that in life’s saddest moments, there is always a ray of sunshine.