Never underestimate the impact a small kindness can have.
That’s the message the Oneness Gogos of South Surrey/White Rock are hoping to impress on people during the Random Acts of Kindness week Feb. 11-17.
The group, one of 220 grandmother groups across Canada who advocate and fundraise in support of grandmothers in sub-Saharan Africa caring for orphaned grandchildren, aims to inspire people to practise kindness and pass it on to others.
“The big thing with RAK week is to share that a simple act of doing a small kindness can make a big difference. It’s like a ripple in the water, it continues on,” said Peninsula resident and longtime gogo Penny Cuddy.
Last year, the gogos (which means grandmothers in Swahili) took to the streets handing out hot chocolate and sweets to strangers with notes that contained heartfelt messages.
This year, the group will be focusing their efforts on new Canadians at the Umoja Newcomers Family Service in Surrey, which provides outreach to refugees and immigrants as they settle into their new life in Canada.
The first connection between the gogos and Umoja was through a fundraising initiative which was a “double kindness,” Cuddy explained.
“We would knit toques for people to buy and instead of taking them home, the people who bought them would donate them to those in need. Many would donate to the United Gospel Mission, but we wanted to support somewhere in our community,” she said. “When RAK week came up, we thought maybe this could be somewhere we could help out.”
Working under the title Operation Umoja, the 45-member group is collecting and donating winter coats, children’s clothing, food, books and toys.
And while the donations are a significant part of the operation, Cuddy said just as important is letting people in the community know about the services offered and the work Umoja does.
“People who want to donate can do so directly to Umoja. We thought if we could create awareness, people would appreciate the assistance they provide and then donate, even after the week is up,” Cuddy said.
While marking the week is relatively new to the local gogos as whole, longtime member Debbie Riopel is among the first co-ordinators of RAK week in Canada.
Riopel became involved with her sister, Colleen Ring, while living in Alberta, following the 1994 murder of a young mother in Edmonton. Ring, a teacher, was searching for a way to help the young children in her classroom come to terms with the terrible act. Shortly afterwards, the sisters found out about the U.S.-based effort, and decided to implement it in Ring’s classroom and, eventually, their city.
“Colleen and Debbie went to the press and started talking about it and it caught on,” Cuddy said. “They took that random act of violence and created something for the better from it.”
While the week is a big event for the grandmothers, Cuddy said that the effort to spread kindness is a part of their daily lives.
Since forming more than five years ago, the local group’s efforts have raised more than $100,000 for the Stephen Lewis Foundation’s Grandmothers to Grandmothers Campaign, which helps the African gogos with basics such as goods, housing and school fees for their grandchildren.
“It’s a really beautiful thing. Even though we’re all the way over here, we can still help and support those grandmothers in Africa,” Cuddy said. “And we can make a difference here at home, too.”