“We wanted to redefine the meaning of ‘Valentine’ to include all of humankind, not just for one special person. If you share love universally, you’ll feel loved universally,” begins Mahima Poddar, founder of The Kindness Project. Their initiative, The Kindness Week, began on Valentine’s Day and aims to encourage people perform random acts of kindness for others for seven days.
Mahima, an expressive art therapy practitioner and child sexual abuse awareness and prevention educator, explains that the Kindness Week was conceptualised when she realised everything can fall apart without self-respect and empathy. “In our country, most people do not understand empathy but they all understand kindness. Kindness is layman’s term for empathy. We encourage everyone to do a selfless act for someone else during the kindness week. That’s how we start a change on a larger scale,” she explains.
Children from Palipattu school in Chennai enjoy painting facilitated by patrons through The Kindness Project on Feb 14, 2019.
Mahima further points out that kindness needs to go beyond materialistic acts. She realised this herself when she asked her two daughter a simple question while distributing food packets in shelters and to construction workers. “The younger one said, ‘kids just want to play’. That was when it hit me. We have it all wrong. Materialistic things don't make children happy. We need to give them a happy mental space to live their life better,” she elaborates.
The Kindness Project has concentrated its initiative within a week for the simple reason that it creates more buzz, making it likely for more people to join. Like the World Kindness Day that is observed on November 13, Mahima hopes the Kindness Week too will find universal acceptance in future.
The impact of Kindness Week
The Kindness Week had its first run in 2018 and close to 500 children benefited as a result. “I was quite skeptical if the idea would take shape but it did quite well, being a new initiative,” Mahima admits. “But then, SPI cinemas opened its doors to 350 children from Suyam Charitable Trust, offering them a unique experience at their theatre with red carpet welcome and magic showing in addition to the movie. Spin Dance Studio and Kombat Kinetics offered dance classes and martial arts classes respectively. We saw that people went out of their way to show kindness.”
While these children could come to the venues, many are unable to. That does not mean they should be excluded from Kindness Week. “Last year we went to the children’s haematology ward in Government Hospital in Chennai where a karaoke guitarist was invited to perform. I was bowled over by the response from children and their caretakers there. This year story teller, Jeeva Ragunath will also be present,” says Mahima.
A dance class facilitated for school children through The Kindness Project
She shares that a Facebook post by them had even inspired a young girl to initiate Kindness Week in her school. “One parent from Coimbatore wrote to us saying her daughter proposed the Kindness Week as project for her class which was later adopted by the entire school. It started with one post,” she beams.
While last year’s Kindness Week centred around children, this year, it will expand to include destitute women and senior citizens. Mahima adds that in future they plan to include more people, animals and nature.
She says that such acts of kindness have to be done with conscious intent in the beginning. “Do it and see how that feels. Do it intentionally, like a ‘kind deed of the day’… until it becomes a part of our culture,” Mahima says.
This year, the Kindness week is on until February 21. Some of the partners this year are VR Chennai, Writer’s Cafe, Paint Me Happy, Indiska Magic, Funky Monkey’s, Pee-ka-boo, etc.