Author Archives: Exchanging Disappointment for Hope
I am a qualified social worker who is passionate about social justice. Every life matters, no-one is insignificant or invaluable.
Life has taken me to broken and beautiful places. I write from professional and life experience, with a particular interest in coming alongside those who have faced trauma and despair.
Essentially, I believe in hope.
I have sometimes responded: “Thank you for your kind words.” Kind words are like soothing honey. They can encourage, bless and uplift.
Kind words are not necessarily flattering. Flattery may be disingenuous and actually dishonest, whereas kind words are meaningful and genuine.
I’m very astute and can discern between someone trying to be kind and someone actually being kind. There is a distinct difference. When an intention is to make a gesture look kind, it doesn’t really work for me. What works is when it resonates.
An example of this is inclusion. I love feeling included, not added on as an afterthought, or feeling like an also ran. I hope and aim to make people feel genuinely included and wanted.
I’m challenging myself in writing this blog as I explore kindness. I’m more and more of the mindset that kindness is genuine with no hidden agenda. It isn’t about seeing someone with pity either but rather choosing to connect with a fellow human.
I am grateful to be alive and to know kindness in the form of being kept in mind. It isn’t about presents, for me it is about presence, being present in people’s thoughts and feeling loved and special to them.
Today has been a happy birthday kind of day. I am so grateful to friends who have remembered and sent me messages, some calling before work.
Kindness to people is about making them feel special and heard. We can do that birthday thing in different ways throughout the year!
Today’s blog comes from Reader’s Digest. It’s an extract. Enjoy
We asked readers for firsthand accounts of compassion. Here are 30 stories on kindness that touched your lives—and our hearts.
A couple of years ago, I stumbled off the subway in Upper Manhattan, exhausted after a long and stressful day at work, dreaming about the warmth of my bed. I stopped in a 7/11 on the way to my apartment to buy a bag of popcorn (treat yourself!). A man about three times my size stood in front of me at the register buying a pack of cigarettes and turned toward me, telling me I looked tired. I smiled uncomfortably and became noticeably more alert, as a young woman does when a strange man starts talking to her at night. He turned toward the cashier and said that he was going to get my snack too. I politely declined and was already pulling out my wallet, but this man wouldn’t allow me to say no. He handed the cashier a couple of extra dollars to cover my popcorn and told me that he hoped my night got better. He walked out of the store and I never saw him again.
The world could use a little more kindness. It’s so easy to get caught up in your own routine and everyday personal worries that sometimes we just don’t remember to tune into those around us. The man who paid for my popcorn has stuck with me and inspired me to pay it forward to others who look like they could use a hand. It feels great to be kind, so it’s a win-win! Maybe you need a little guidance on random acts of kindness, but these stories of kindness will definitely encourage you to pass the compassion along. A little bit can go a long way. And if you’re looking for more inspiration, check out these kindness quotes, kindness memes, and acts of kindness for kids.
We all have good and bad days and today wasn’t one of my best. Kindness doesn’t always feel at hand and sometimes life is just plain tough.
Today though a dear friend called me and told me I had been on her mind. We had a lovely chat and I felt better after this. she cared pure and simple, enough to pick up the phone.
Many feel alone in society. Many face financial hardship and face it alone. My message today is to keep others in mind and when kindness feels far off, there is always hope that there will be a brighter day.
Thanks to all of you who read this, it really matters to me because I feel people are interested in what I have to say.
We can all get so busy-let us never be too busy to care!!!
Today’s guest blog is by a lovely woman named Amy. Thanks to Amy for her poem and to all those of you who have guest blogged so far-keep it coming as it gives a different perspective and this blog is a shared space for our blogging community. Anyway over to Amy
Kindness. The natural order of the universe. The purpose for which we were created. Kindness. The state of being kind. Being kindred spirits. Among one’s own kind. The kind of people we want to spend time with: Kind. Kind of strange how kindness comes and goes. Sometimes it’s present; other times not. But we can choose to be kind whenever we wish. A choice and a blessing to both parties. A kind relationship is a lasting relationship. The human spirit speaks the language of kindness.
The town of Blackburn, in Lancashire, with its high number of low-income households, is one of the areas hardest hit by the cost-of-living crisis. The BBC’s Alex Forsyth met people there to find out how they are pulling together to help each other through.
Today’s article comes from the BBC news and is a great example of community kindness. A huge shout out to Blackburn!
On a freezing morning in Blackburn, the volunteers at Ivy Street Community Centre are determined to keep the atmosphere warm.
They sort through trays of fresh food laid out on trestle tables, putting vegetables, pies and packets of porridge into bags ready for people in the neighbourhood who are struggling to get by.
Christine Connell, who runs the centre, has been working in the local community for 37 years, and says the need seems greater than ever.
“I see worry,” she says. “When somebody’s got no gas or electric and they’re freezing, I give it to them out of my own pocket. I see poverty. A lot of poverty.”
Every Tuesday the free food parcels are either collected or delivered by Christine and her team.
“When you go round you can see the tears in their eyes,” she says. “If it’s someone with a baby we have nappies. It’s sanitary wear. The basics.
“And people are struggling that are working. You wouldn’t think somebody working would need help but they do, because their bills are so high.”
Inflation has affected people right across the UK, but according to the Centre for Cities think tank, places like Blackburn, where people on lower wages spend more of their income on food and fuel, have been hit particularly hard.
‘I still want to live’
A five-minute drive from the community centre, a singing session is under way at Albion Mill, an extra-care housing facility that opened shortly after the pandemic.
Run by the local branch of Age UK, the “talk and tunes” group is open to residents and people living nearby, to provide free companionship and support.
For 82-year-old Valerie, who lives alone, it’s a chance to get out of her home without spending money.
“All the food is going up,” she says. “It’s getting too much. I only get a state pension. It’s taking the biggest part of that, and then I have to pay my rent and there’s no money left.
“You can’t go out, you’ve got to sit in your own four walls and I don’t like it. I think life is for living. I’ve got MS and it does hold me back, but I still want to live.”
The Blackburn with Darwen branch of Age UK says the demand from people seeking support from its local advice service between April and September last year increased by 80% compared with the same period the year before, mostly related to people struggling with money.
“One of the things we’re trying to do is reach people who wouldn’t usually come for advice and support”, says chief executive Vicky Shepherd.
“Those people who have been managing and were OK are now really being impacted by the increased costs, because most pensioners live on a fixed income,” Vicky explains.
The government has provided support to households and businesses to help with spiralling energy bills, and made extra funding available to councils to give to the most vulnerable people through what’s called the Household Support Fund.
In Blackburn, Jubilee Tower Credit Union is one of the local organisations that helps allocate that pot of money.
In the past nine months it’s given out 5,700 payments, totalling more than £500,000.
Chairwoman Janice Parker says people are “actively making choices between heating their homes and eating”.
She adds: “They’re worried about the fact direct debits for fuel costs have gone up, and whether or not they can afford them.
“We’re getting people who have their own houses, they have good jobs, but they still need that support. On one level I feel angry, on one level quite sad but I think frustration is the biggest area.
“We are very lucky here in Blackburn with Darwen that we have so many different organisations working together.”
‘You can hear it in their voices’
With demand so high, Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council has ramped up a helpline which it originally set up during the Covid pandemic, bringing in staff from across the organisation to answer the phones.
In one of its call centres, five council workers wearing headsets are taking and making calls to people who’ve applied for extra support – on average about 300 phone calls are made and received each week.
Emma Mercer is one of the council’s “community connectors”, who describes what one woman told her.
“She’s got £3.40 left on her meter at the moment and her daughter has an eating disorder and she can’t afford food properly”, she says. “So we’re going to try and get her a bit of food, help her with her utilities a little bit.”
Emma says it can be tough listening to the circumstances some people are facing.
“You can hear it in their voices when they’re speaking to you that they’re not used to reaching out for help,” she says.
“It’s exceptionally difficult to hear that type of thing, but at the same time you know you’re doing something for them – even if it’s getting them a little bit of food and making sure they can put the gas on to cook their food.”
The council can offer money to people who are eligible using funding the government has made available, but resources are finite, so they also refer people to one of the other organisations working across Blackburn to plug the gaps.
They can provide food, furniture and white goods, or help and advice managing finances and household bills.
Shuiab Khan runs the Bangor Street Community Centre, which has just started a weekly “warm evening”, offering free food and a warm space to anyone living nearby.
On the first evening, about 100 people turned up within the first hour.
“The idea was to get people out of their homes, to save energy and to give people a free meal,” Shuiab says.
Sisters Mehak, 15, and 12-year-old Kiran arrived with their aunt: “It just feels like you’re part of some big family to be honest,” Kiran says.”You’re surrounded by people who you know and just people who really understand you.”
Today’s post is thanks to a very kind blogger JKaybay who often comments on my blog and has suggested a post on ethical kindness and looking after our planet. This is not my area of expertise, so I am grateful for his contribution to the Kindness Diaries.
Enjoy and if anyone wants to do a guest blog on kindness then please let me know.
Chocolate plays a significant role in deforestation, particularly of the tropical rainforests in West Africa. Since my last post on the Top 10 Ethical Chocolate Brands, I thought it would be useful to have a series of posts examining the major social and environmental issues around chocolate. By examining one item in depth, even a humble chocolate bar, we can cover issues that apply much more widely. And even on its own, chocolate is a perfect example of a product that spans the range from highly destructive to fairly beneficial. So here’s an overview on the link between chocolate and deforestation.
Deforestation in West Africa
Most of the world’s chocolate is sourced from West Africa – the Ivory Coast (Côte d’Ivoire) in particular, followed by Ghana, Nigeria and neighboring countries. This is especially true for the largest corporations (Mondelez, Hershey, Nestlé, etc.) which source commodity market cacao that has already been pooled together by collectors and other middlemen. The alternative, of course, is to buy from smaller chocolate makers who can source cacao in smaller quantities from specific farmers and cooperatives. But why does it matter that the multinationals don’t have much control over sourcing of cacao?
Côte d’Ivoire comprises part of West Africa’s Guinean Forest Region, an ecosystem of great biological richness, species diversity, and endemism. The region is a World Biodiversity Hotspot, hosting over 2,250 endemic plant and 270 vertebrate species.
Wildlife within Côte d’Ivoire’s protected areas (PAs; national parks and protected forests) is increasingly threatened by two illegal activities: hunting and full-sun cocoa farming. The great majority of forest degradation in the PAs surveyed is the result of cocoa farming. 74% of the total surveyed PAs have been transformed into cocoa plantation
Our data reveal a significant positive correlation (r² = .736, p < .01, α = 0.01) between cocoa farming and the absence of primate species inside Côte d’Ivoire’s national parks and forest reserves
Unless illegal cocoa farming is similarly controlled, even effective enforcement of anti-hunting laws will not prevent the loss of additional primate diversity, since habitats capable of supporting primate populations – including those within protected areas – will no longer exist
That’s pretty grim. The correlation between the disappearance of primate species and the prevalence of cacao farming is undeniable. And it makes total sense – a full-sun cacao farm doesn’t have the high canopy, food sources, or other features that would support primates.
In 2019 a Yale 360 published an investigation into the role that the chocolate industry has played in the deforestation of West Africa. It’s focused mainly on cacao farming within the Ivory Coast’s protected areas:
In the past half-century, few countries have lost rainforests as fast as the Ivory Coast. More than 80 percent of its forests are gone. Around 40 percent of the country’s cocoa crop — more than a tenth of the world’s chocolate bars — is grown illegally in the country’s national parks and 230 supposedly protected government-owned forests.
International companies that buy the cocoa are offering to manage the degraded forest reserves provided the government legalizes cocoa production in them.
Etelle Higonnet, deforestation and human rights expert, believes that this is a dangerous precedent for other cacao-farming areas such as Indonesia, the largest cacao producer outside of Africa:
“Other nations such as Indonesia could decide to simply lower the protections on their forests. I can imagine Bolsonaro in Brazil also having a field day [delisting] protected areas.” – Etelle Higonnet, Yale 360
Thankfully, Bolsonaro has only a matter of days remaining as President of Brazil. But the threat to global forests is still very real.
Deforestation by chocolate: how to avoid it as a consumer
Death by chocolate takes on a new meaning when you think about the deaths that result from widespread deforestation. Not just deaths, but local extinctions of species including primates. I’ll keep this simple and follow it up in the next two sections.
Here are two important actions that we can take as consumers:
Avoid chocolate from large multinational corporations.
Support chocolate that’s made from shade-grown cacao.
Avoid chocolate from large multinational corporations
This isn’t too complicated, really. The major confectionary makers have promised for decades to clean up their acts. In 2018, I wrote a post on slavery in the chocolate industrythat discussed how many of the biggest corporations will often just play for more time. Following the 2001 Harkin-Engel Protocol that asked the industry to self-regulate on slavery,the big players gradually committed to be slavery-free by 2020. That bought them two decades and then…
Companies like Nestlé, which still battles ongoing court cases brought forward by former slaves, changed their goal.
The same applies with deforestation. Call me cynical but I suspect that the major players would just like to wait the situation out until there are no primates remaining. It’s similar to the palm oilstory in Indonesia and Malaysia. So, I’m proposing that we simply avoid the big brands – the kind of chocolate bars that you’ll see in your local 7-11 store.
Perhaps within a few years, EU residents won’t have to worry about whether the chocolate on their supermarket shelves is responsible for deforestation – if the latest legislation works out.
The EU passed a law on Dec 6 to ban import of products (raw materials or products made from them) that are responsible for deforestation.
Companies selling their products into the EU will have to prove their goods are not linked to deforestation, or face fines of up to four percent of their annual EU turnover. – BBC
Caio Carvalho, president of the Brazilian Agribusiness Association (Abag), told Mongabay by phone. “It is madness, an aggressive and unmeasured posture.” – Mongabay
Well he sounds worried but you have to wonder, when you look at some of the criticisms, is it enough and how easily enforceable will it be?
Support chocolate that’s made from shade-grown cacao
The story of sun-grown cacao is similar to how things have played out with many products bought and sold on commodity markets, such as mainstream coffee. As coffee production intensified to suit commodity markets that favor price over sustainability, it became dominated by full-sun farming. Here’s a quote from a GSP post on the benefits of shade-grown coffee:
Though some of the forest understory is cleared for farming, a rich web of plant and animal life remains. As a result, shade grown coffee plantations provide corridors for migrating birds to move between forest fragments, attract and support economically valuable pollinators such as bees and bats, and provide ecosystem services such as filtering water and air, stabilizing soil during heavy rains, storing carbon and replenishing soil nutrients.
The same applies to chocolate, or any of the products that can be sourced from sustainable agroforestry systems. There are several things to consider, such as the use of pesticides (some particularly nasty ones are used on cacao) and fertilizer. But one of the best ways to determine if a cacao farm can support endemic species and habitats is to look at how many other kinds of trees are present, particularly large trees that provide shade. But how much shade is needed?
Shade-grown cacao: How much shade is enough?
According to a 2018 paper in Nature Sustainability, around 30% shade cover seems to represent an ideal compromise between crop yield, climate mitigation, climate adaptability, and biodiversity.
Shade trees help regulate temperature and humidity around the crops and are able to help keep harmful organisms in check. In these heterogeneous environments, diseases spread less quickly, and fluctuations in temperature can be buffered by shade, creating more stable yields over time. And the results have uncovered just that; at around 30% shade coverage yield is not yet affected by the shade trees but the numerous ecological benefits they provide are all present. – Centre for Agriculture and Bioscience International (CABI)
First author on the paper, Wilma Blaser commented that, with certain practices, the number of shade trees can be pushed even higher without negatively impacting cacao yields:
“Targeted application of fertiliser, timely pest control, regularly pruning, or weeding could potentially increase cocoa yields even under a higher shade canopy.” – Wilma Blaser, CABI
Examples of chocolate made from shade-grown cacao
I decided to focus on this topic after researching the chocolate company Beyond Good (formerly known as Madécasse) on Ethical Bargains. Beyond Good chocolate is sourced and largely made in Madagascar, with expansion into Uganda under way. The forests of East Africa are just as important as those on the West side – particularly the island of Madagascar, which is host to so many unique species.
Madagascar has 107 species of lemurs, 103 of which are threatened with extinction (due to deforestation). Five of those species live in our cocoa forests—the northern giant mouse lemur (vulnerable); the Sambirano mouse lemur (endangered); the Sambirano fork-marked lemur (endangered); the Dwarf lemur (endangered); and Gray’s Sportive Lemur (endangered). – Beyond Good, on Treehugger
Beyond Good’s cacao suppliers are shown on an interactive map, each with a photo and brief bio, including the size of their farm (often just a few acres) and even an estimate of the number of trees. Most of them have had a relationship with Beyond Good for over five years.
The information on the number of trees per farm is really useful because there are separate counts for “cacao trees” and “total trees.” The largest producer (Théodule) has the following stats: Total Trees: 94404 and Cocoa Trees 73958. So there are around 20,000 non-cocoa trees on this farmer’s land, or around 20% of the total number of trees.
A typical parcel of cocoa forest in our supply chain will have 75% cocoa trees and 25% shade trees. – Beyond Good, on Treehugger
So, Beyond Good’s suppliers are close to that ideal level of shade cover, providing much more support for biodiversity and climate change mitigation than sun grown cacao.
Even banana trees and young cocoa trees have this sort of beautiful, symbiotic relationship. Cocoa trees require full shade in their first five years of life. Banana trees are planted next to cocoa trees to provide that shade for the cocoa (and bananas for the farmer). The life span of a banana tree is five to six years, at which point it dies off just as the cocoa tree is strong enough to survive without the banana tree. Other trees—jackfruit, mango, citrus—provide shade for the cocoa, and fruit for the farmer. – Treehugger
Instead of chopping down forests to pave the way for additional plot land, the farmers have been converting rice lands into new shaded areas where cocoa pods sprout alongside banana, jackfruit and citrus trees. – TriplePundit
Several of the brands on the list of Top 10 Ethical Chocolate Brands were selected in part because of their support of shade-grown cacao. Here’s another example of sustainable cacao agroforestry, from Brazil.
One example is the shaded-cocoa production in Brazil, a practice known as cabruca. A species of New World monkey –the golden-headed lion tamarin (Leontopithecus chrysomelas) – is not only able to live, but even to thrive in such agroforestry matrices. – 2015 paper on cacao farming and local extinction of primates.
When I made the list of the Top 10 Ethical Chocolate Brands, I knew that it wasn’t comprehensive or perfect. I’m adding Beyond Good to the list as I hadn’t researched the brand until this week. That’s also why I’m asking you to change the list by voting on chocolate brands so that we can start to approach a consensus. So please take a moment to vote!
I have been working hard recently and tonight I sat and watched tv. Sat and watched three episodes of ? Any guesses followers? I didn’t intend to sit and do that but I needed to rest my brain and body and relax.
It is so easy to be a workaholic. It is easy to spend hours on the internet doing work from home, eating up our lives like a classic monster munching video game.
Kindness to self is finding an interplay between work and time for us. Too much work can lead to burn out and there is a need for stimulation and a good work ethic creates this. But it is indeed a fine balance.
I have decided this year to be less exacting on myself=hard work interspersed with hard fun too. And lots of lovely sleep thrown in. And good food with fruit added.
As always please share your thoughts and let me know your guesses re the show I am watching at the moment. I may give a clue tomorrow.