Online activists counter killing with kindness

BEIRUT: Regional security may leave something to be desired, but it’s not all doom and gloom. An online campaign launched Jan. 1, “The Kindness Project in the Middle East” has attracted over 1,200 Facebook fans who believe that small acts of kindness are one way to fight back against violence and inequality.

The group was founded by Lebanese teacher Heidi Shebaro, who lived in Lebanon until the age of 29. She moved to the United States five years ago, after her husband was offered a job there. The idea for “The Kindness Project” came to her recently, she explains, when she was despairing about the ongoing war in Syria and acts of terrorism in the homeland she still visits frequently.

“Given my native country Lebanon’s political upheavals,” she told The Daily Star in an email interview, “I felt equally angry and disgusted with our politicians’ ineptitude and intransigence; however, when I looked at my anger, I didn’t like it. It’s not effective and it won’t change anything. Consequently, I decided to transform and channel my anger into a positive energy that takes acts of kindness as a viable means to foster tolerance and understanding between Lebanon’s different communities.”

Shebaro contacted a number of young Arab friends in the region, who liked the idea and agreed to help make the project a reality. The group posts daily ideas for simple acts of kindness that could help brighten up a stranger’s day on their Facebook page, “The Kindness Project.” They also repost messages from followers, describing an act of kindness they witnessed or performed and how it was received.

“The Kindness Project is still in its early stages,” Shebaro emphasizes. “[So] our projected events are still in conception. Nonetheless, our team members are working tirelessly to cover, report and share ongoing kindness stories and ideas. We also partner with other civil society organizations with common interests, such as KAFA, to raise awareness against domestic violence and bullying.”

Shebaro hopes that in the long term, the project will encourage people to concentrate on the positive things in life, rather than dwelling on their problems. Instead of focusing on those who commit acts of violence such as bombings, she says, people should begin asking about the heroes who come forward to help in the aftermath.

“In the long term,” she says, “I foresee a foundation that will play an important role in our education system, by helping our schools and educators develop curriculums that will teach Lebanon’s future generations acts of kindness as a means for societal tolerance and understanding.”

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on February 27, 2014, on page 2.




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