August 29, 2011

London Riots Won Over by a Nation of Tea Lovers

What happens after your life has been threatened and in danger and you’ve successfully run to safety? According to Jonathan Walker and his wife, Philippa Morgan Walker, "Put the kettle on!" That's exactly what this Camden, London, England couple did – they served the police tea after being stuck in the middle of the recent riots.

Watch how they inspired hope in the UK and beyond with their new found mantra, "Make tea, not war!"



I’m back in the United States after spending over a week in England, where order seems to have been restored on the London streets.


Most people here in America seemed to be unaffected by the mayhem and aftermath of the damage - broken glass, burned down cars and buildings and the harrowing stories of those caught in the thick of the senseless rioting in the United Kingdom.


My hope was to incorporate a Go Inspire Go (GIG) story during my travels in the UK. I went to England to witness a magical wedding of my friends Cathy and Julian. Their wedding was enchanting, with special elements and inspiring new friendships. The backdrop: Durham Cathedral, also familiar to many in “Harry Potter,” as the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

Like the magic of Hollywood, this new GIG story also unraveled in a fairy tale fashion, starting with meeting new friends at a Lumley Castle reception.


Fiona Pattison, with happy4pr, was inspired by GIG and is now helping us launch in the UK. We immediately connected. With warmth, she asked, “Are you going to do a story on the riots?" Right when we met, we were on the same wavelength -- it was amazing. She introduced me to Oli Cohen, who founded Resonate Productions.

We immediately joined forces to produce a GIG video. Fiona had the perfect GIG story in mind and quickly connected me to her friend, Jonathan Walker and his lovely wife Philippa Morgan Walker who are now well known for their kind act amidst the chaos that erupted from the rioting.


Like many Americans, the Walkers felt distant from the rioting – despite their close proximity to the brimming violence and looting that happened just neighborhoods away. “We didn’t think it would happen here,” admitted Jonathan.

They did not expect that soon their lives would be in danger, taking a couple of turns along the way. After desperately trying to get back home to safety amidst the riots, they wanted to do something nice for the officer who eventually offered to escort them home.

They asked a simple question, “Would you fancy a cup of tea?”
It's amazing how this simple act of kindness inspired the country, the community and the Prime Minister. The London riots are literally won over by a nation of tea lovers!


No matter where you’re living, you’re a part of humanity – so in effect this does affect you. “It’s empowering to know that you actually have a lot of impact on your surrounding. Just please please, please, please, always do something. Just the tiny bit of light ceases darkness to exist,” emphasized Philipa.

“Life is full of moments, good and bad. And in those moments they can change the world's consciousness, make people aware of the world they are living in. A community has a voice and can make a difference, even if it is to help clean up what others have tried to destroy. The riots have simply made people stronger and helped to restore faith in human kindness,” Fiona believed.

This is what I found remarkable: That out of chaos came togetherness. The riots simply showed people's sense of community and many small acts of kindness -- from kind acts with cupcakes, volunteer community cleanup crews and others chipping in to help the victims -- added up to create a lot of change that helped to restore faith in human kindness in a time of great fear and loss.

While many people blame the rioters – I ask you to hold your judgment – my question is where do we go wrong as human beings? Where were the family members and role models in their lives? What if someone said or did something small, something kind that could’ve thwarted their actions?

What can YOU do?

August 21, 2011

Little Blessings - Unwanted Children of Vietnam

Deep down in my heart I believe that everyone on this planet is precious -- special in their own way -- no matter who you are, where you're from or how much you have in your bank account (or if you even have a bank account for that matter). It also breaks my heart to see children who are unwanted, uncared for for any reason. That's why I wanted to share this poignant blog post written by my good friend (I call her sister), Jessica Chang. "Changalang" as I call her, with a sense of endearment, took a leave of absence from her job, not to tour Asia and go on vacation or holiday, she spent time in Thailand and Vietnam teaching needy children and volunteering at an orphanage packed with disabled and sick kids. This marks the first trip of Jessica's new journey in a project and blog she created Volunteer Ventures -- that inspires everyone to Venture into the world of volunteering, while traveling. Go Jessica Go!

----

It's been a whirlwind week here in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam -– living in a house full of strangers-turned-friends and travel buddies, working with children with conditions I've never encountered before and trying to stay alive while crossing the street in this hectic city!

I've been working at the orphanage I was assigned to by Volunteers for Peace Vietnam for six days now and I'm still getting the hang of how to care for the kids. I work with children who range from about one to eight years old. As many of you can understand, taking care of children is no easy task. I've been a babysitter, a camp counselor and most recently an English teacher in Thailand. But when the kids can't talk, don't understand the language you're speaking and can barely move on their own, the challenges multiply. Most of the nurses and caregivers at the orphanage don't speak any English either, so it's been tough to figure out what they need us to help with.

Every morning, five volunteers leave our house to catch the bus to the orphanage. The whole place serves about 400 children whose ages range from infant to teens. The group we take care of is made up of more than 30 kids, about one to eight years old. It's hard to tell just how old each kid is though. One little girl has such thin legs and arms and looks about two-years-old, but she's actually six! Their disabilities range from blindness to cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, hyrdrocephalis (extra fluid buildup in the brain) and birth defects caused by Agent Orange (herbicide used during the Vietnam War). This little boy named Hao has hydrocephalus, but when you meet him, you barely notice, since his smile takes up his whole face!


When we arrive to the second floor section where our group of kids is located, we greet them in their stroller/highchairs or in their cribs. I like to say hello with a little song, like "Good Morning to You" (to the tune of "Happy Birthday"), "Twinkle Twinkle," "Row Row Row Your Boat" or "Itsy Bitsy Spider." I also play with their hands and feet to get them moving. This little girl, named Lien, likes it when I stroke her fingers, which she can't really move. The splints help keep her fingers outstretched.


This little boy (I haven't figured out his name yet) loves it when I slide my hand across his. I also play a simplified version of "Patty-cake" with him.


If they're in their chairs, we push them around the second floor hallways to give them a change of scenery -– somewhat. From what I've seen, they have no ramps or elevators to take the children downstairs to play in the playground or courtyard. We can also play with them on removable mats we lay out on the floor.


At 10 a.m. we feed them their lunch, since they go to bed and wake up so early. For the babies who can't chew, it's a green vegetable mush. For the intermediate eaters, it's a rice porridge with chopped vegetables and bits of meat. And for the advanced eaters, it's soup with short noodles, vegetables and pieces of meat. Not an extensive menu, but I'm sure it contains the nutrients the kids need. Each of the kids' bowls is labeled with his/her name -– that's the best way for us to learn their names, since it's hard to communicate with the caregivers.

I think I'm the slowest feeder of the bunch. So many of the caregivers shovel huge spoonfuls of food into the kids' mouths -– one after another –- to the point where the mush is oozing out of their mouths like lava out of a volcano! It's painful to watch, especially when the kids are practically choking! That's why I don’t mind allowing the kids time to chew and swallow. Even then they often cough so the food ends up on my face and clothes, or they can't keep the food in their mouth so they drool it all out onto their bibs.

After feeding, we wipe up their faces (and anywhere else they got food stuck on them) and put them back in their cribs for changing. We have a diaper change assembly line going on. The volunteers take off the kids' shorts and cloth diapers and dump them in a bucket. Then a caregiver follows to put a clean cloth diaper on them. Then we put a clean pair of shorts on them. Last week, I found a big piece of poop as big as the head of the little boy who made it. Once I got the diaper off, the boy stuck his foot in the poo, then peed on himself and on the floor!

After the kids settle down for their nap, we leave for a two-and-a-half-hour break. Almost all businesses in Ho Chi Minh City shut down between 11:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. for a siesta (Vietnamese-style). So we hop back on the bus to our house, eat lunch and take a break. Many of the other volunteers take a nap, but I haven't yet since I'm afraid I'll wake up too groggy.

We leave the house for the orphanage again at 2 p.m. and when we arrive it's pretty much the same drill as in the morning. We play with the kids in their cribs or take a few out to play on the mats. By this point, I've sung each of my children's songs a dozen times, so I've also added Jason Mraz's "I'm Yours" to my repertoire. I figure it's a happy and upbeat song and they don't understand the words anyway. We feed the kids dinner about 3:15 p.m. (same menu) -– most of them stay in their cribs for the meal, but I try to take the kid I'm feeding out to their high chair so he or she can eat upright. Then it's clean up and diaper changing all over again before they go to bed. We head home at around 4:30 p.m.

There've been a few moments this past week when I've gotten a little choked up while playing with or holding one of these kids. To think how sweet and beautiful they are –- but unwanted and abandoned by their parents –- just breaks my heart. I remember reporting on a story about a daycare center in San Diego that helps nurture disabled children. I interviewed parents and teachers who talked about how these children are such blessings, no matter their disabilities and the extra care they need. I'm beginning to understand what they mean now. In the six days I've known them, these children have touched my heart like no other children I've met before. Most can't say please or thank you, but I'm happy to give them the love and affection they deserve and so desperately need –- poop, pee, drool and all.

----

What can YOU do to make a difference?

Jessica's goal is to bring toys, supplies and even raise enough support to add an elevator or ramp to the center to get some appropriate medical care and surgeries for the kids.

If this story has touched you, open your heart and show some support! For more information about how you can help and to learn more about Volunteer Ventures visit her blog or Facebook page!

* Thanks Jessica for sharing your story and the amazing story of these "little blessings."

August 14, 2011

Three Steps to Generosity and How It Benefits YOU!

When was the last time you gave unconditionally – with no strings attached? What about receiving with gratitude for the abundance in your life? And what does dancing have to do with being generous?

According to my friend and one of the most inspiringly generous people I know -- Nipun Mehta, founder of CharityFocus.org, a fully volunteer-run organization -- these are the three stages of generosity.

Please watch Nipun share his sentiments about generosity in this TEDx video and be moved to action.  Think about what you can do to give, receive and dance:



You have the power to be generous. How you do it depends on you! What are you doing to make someone else’s life better right now?

Still don’t know?

Here are some ideas on where to start:
Karma Kitchen
Karma Clinic
Smile Cards

Thank you Charity Focus Family for your generosity!

In gratitude,

Toan

August 4, 2011

Going the Extra Smile: Project Connects World Through Grins *VIDEO*

“I don’t know what I can do to help others,” is a response I often hear when people have been inspired by GoInspireGo stories, but do not understand their individual power.

Sometimes I simply quote from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, “You’ve always had the power … (to go back to Kansas),” said Glinda the good witch.

This simple reinforcing quote applies to all of us. We’ve always had the power to live better, be better and then do better for others.

For everyone who has ever asked me (or yourself) or doubted the ability to make a positive impact – no matter what socioeconomic background, gender, creed - just watch this video…and meet Claire Lemmel, someone who instantly puts a smile on your face and who has discovered the true meaning of Joy. Smile…



You’re probably grinning from ear to ear after watching this video. That’s good because if you are, it’s already benefitting your health. Many studies, including one from the University of California, Berkeley shows that simply smiling boosts the immune system, increases positive affect, reduces stress, lowers blood pressure, enhances other people’s perception of you – plus it’s easy, fun and contagious.

According to Positive Psychology News Daily: “The eyes and lips are a powerful weapon that everyone is equipped with at birth. When used for good, this weapon can exert a significant amount of health and happiness on the smiler and recipient. So become the center of a positive change ripple. Squeeze your zigomatic major, squint your orbicularis oculi, and if you really want to get things flowing … expose your teeth.” So share this video with your frowny friends, smile with “what yo’ momma gave you.”

Photo Courtesy: William Wong

I believe I’ve found one answer to the common question, “I don’t know how I can help others. What can I do?” Witness Claire’s joy and listen to Glinda. And simply start smiling. Discover your own yellow brick road and think about what you can do to make someone smile today. Onward!

For more information about Claire's Connect project: ClaireLemmel.com

*Special Thanks: Megan Wegmann for your amazing energy & help with the Videography

August 1, 2011

A Quick, Simple Exercise to Awakening YOUR Passion (Power)

Many of us ask the question, "What should I do with my life?"

It seems like a question that is asked just as much as the age old philosophical question/quandary, "What is the meaning of life?" Well, allow me to attempt to find an answer to both of these questions based on my amalgamation of experience as a TV news reporter/college professor/curriculum writer/blogger/lover of life.

I've been running into many people lately from varied walks of life and different ages who are trying to figure out what their passion is. Rich or poor -- gay or straight -- black or white, so many are struggling with what that "thing" is that enlivens them and brings them joy. I've certainly struggled to find that "thing" through my own struggles in life; losing my job, losing four family members in eight short months and sometimes losing hope.


When my students and mentees inquire about my career path and ask what they should do with theirs, I tell them to do this exercise:

"When you go to bed tonight, close your eyes and let go of your worries. You probably had dinner, so you're not hungry. The lights are off so no one is watching in judgment. Think about what would excite you out of bed tomorrow morning. That's probably what you should be focused on doing in your life."

Then take it a step further –- now that you've ignited that spark of passion, think about how you can turn that into a brighter flame and then into a fully-fledged fire that is lit underneath you … and then ask yourself, "What can I do with it to make a living and help others?"


One of my students, Devin Williams, is one of the most brilliant video editors I've come across. I've had the pleasure of witnessing him come into and embrace his power of editing videos. Devin's former dream was to be a pro basketball player. He had his mind set. That's all he wanted to do -- until he took my beginner video class. He said, "Toan, I found my passion, that fire, that butterfly effect in my belly in your class. I became obsessed with telling stories with video and sound bites. I love editing and want to get better and better." Devin then took my vlogging class and has been offered a couple of paid freelance gigs.

I too remember feeling that fire –- my passion, however, was for using my voice to help inspire people to help others. You can ask my college professors, specifically Michael Robertson, the former chair of Communications at the University of San Francisco and he'll tell you even he had some doubts about "young Toan's" overambitious zest for using storytelling to inspire people. Robertson was a chiseled former journalist at the San Francisco Chronicle and he knew how the harsh news beast could brutalize young idealists like me. But I was adamant about using my power -- of storytelling and connecting with people to help people discover and use their powers to help others. My path led me to reporting gigs in Wisconsin, Texas and then San Francisco -- until it guided me to forge my own path through my social media site GoInspireGo.com.

For those of you who are struggling to find meaning in your job or your personal life, I dare you to do the aforementioned exercise. Pay attention to that little fire inside your belly that you’re putting on the backburner. What is that "thing" that makes you special? What do you love to do? Why aren't you doing it?

I'd love to hear about how you're using your power to help others.

Onward!
Toan