Weng Lum and Qayyim were seated at a stone table usually used for chess games. They were not having a game of chess but pouring over Qayyim’s school work in preparation for the upcoming year-end examinations. They were also oblivious to a male stranger in his 60s who was observing them while seated at a similar table some distance away. So, they were a little startled when this man came over to speak to them.
He asked Weng Lum if she was a volunteer helping Qayyim with his schoolwork. When he confirmed that Weng Lum was not a paid tutor, he placed $100 in her hands. He explained that the sight of an enthusiastic teacher working together with a focused student was very pleasing to his eyes and he hoped his small gift would be a source of encouragement for their efforts. He assured that he did not need to know how the money will be spent and suggested that they discuss how they would like to use it. He commended Weng Lum for her service to the community and wished Qayyim all the best in his studies before going his way.
Weng Lum and Qayyim were moved by the gesture and felt that the least they could do was not to use the money frivolously. As the donor had wanted to support their learning, they decided that they will only spend it upon achieving a learning goal. So, this evening when both Weng Lum and Qayyin meet, Weng Lum will propose a list of learning goals while Qayyin will put forth a list of requests that $100 can meet. Together they will work out a shared agreement and the conversation in itself, will be important learning for both.
As a community development agency, the stranger’s heart-warming gesture got us reflecting about the impact of our presence in neighbourhoods. Do we encourage kindness and generosity, or have we obscured them with our institutional logic of how care and assistance should be delivered? Do our narratives and actions convey care or are we impressing on those we are assisting that they could be trying harder to become more self-reliant? Do we facilitate a sense of belonging and connectedness among people or do we keep them apart, even if it was not our intention to do so?
I am certain I have not accorded others their due respect many times and I am sure despite our best intentions, there would have been times we have been judgemental, unkind, and divisive, and we can only correct ourselves if we can acknowledge the moments we could have done better. Importantly, we need to afford ourselves the generosity and kindness that enables us to be at peace with our shortcomings. It is often said that peace begins with us, and I would say the same for kindness and generosity. In a community, kindness and generosity reside in those who experience, belonging, connectedness and contentment.
For peace, community, and contentment.
Contentment makes poor men rich; discontent makes rich men poor. – Benjamin Franklin