There is a concept or phenomenon called Random Acts Of Kindness (RAK) that encourages charitable giving to people in need, by people who have plenty or even just a little.
The philosophy makes one pass on gestures and items of kindness in unexpected, unacknowledged situations that are unplanned and so random that the recipient does not have the time to work out exactly how it came about that their lives would be so deeply and positively impacted.
For instance, a few weeks ago on my work street I saw a fellow stop his car alongside a woman carrying her baby in a heavy downpour, roll down his window, and hand the woman an umbrella. She was quite taken aback, and stood there for a few seconds after thanking him, to watch him drive off. Perplexed but grateful, she unfurled the umbrella and went on her way.
He did it on the spur of the moment, quite unplanned, and demanded nothing in return – and an umbrella only costs Ushs10,000 on average, so he could certainly afford it, while the mother of the baby probably had more pressing matters to spend Ushs10,000 on. Plus, the car-driving fellow probably earns Ushs10,000 every hour where she earns that for a week’s work.
His heart, I presumed, was warmed up because of the Christmas season atmosphere of kindness and goodwill to all mankind at random. He must have reasoned quite quickly that being in a closed vehicle, he could afford to walk a couple of metres out of the car into his building without an umbrella, while she had God-knows how many kilometres to walk with her baby.
Random acts of Kindness do not cover gifts to family on Christmas Day or at the office Secret Santa party, because those are not random and in many cases deep down we compare what we are giving to what we are getting. I daresay that many relationships crash on the rocks of gift exchanges where one partner unwraps an iPhone 6 while the other finds three pieces of colourful soap in their gift box.
Last week a couple I know arrived in Kampala from the United States and on their first afternoon out on the town unsupervised they left behind a tip of Ushs50,000 – each. Some hours later, the horror of what they had done resonated through all their contacts and a recovery plan was effected that resulted in the accidental tip being returned in exchange for a more appropriate Ushs10,000 each.
I was dismayed; if they had left the Ushs100,000 tip there it would have qualified as a top-shelf RAK. As soon as I heard the story I resolved to leave behind larger tips than normal during this season, and to tip people who don’t ordinarily receive any – so nurses, teachers, mechanics and fuel pump attendants should be on standby for a stranger reaching over to hand you a couple of thousand shillings with the words, “Merry Christmas” totally out of the blue..
We don’t have enough of those unexpected little gestures that put smiles on the faces of people who frown unhappily for most of the year. Give them a little cheer during this season and at least we have the year kicking off with smiling social service providers.
So far it’s worked out fairly well with me. The one thing I haven’t yet perfected is keeping bottles of drinking water on standby in the car for when I am going through gates manned by askaris. Their happiness at being handed a surprise drink is always uplifting – especially if they get handed the bottle before they ask for it.
I’ve thought about sweeping through a hospital one day with packs of lunch for the people tending to patients, or for the nurses, but I’m a little scared of food poisoning incidents. Perhaps I could instead go over with a tin of paint for the children’s ward of the hospital – any hospital – or some toys, nicely cleaned up if not brand new.
If I were heading upcountry for Christmas I would certainly try to make an impact this way.
The thought of all the Kampala people driving down to their villages and each giving just 20% of their holiday money to a charitable cause could be revolutionary. Put aside five bottles out of every crate of beer or soda, and instead give it to the orphanage (cash equivalent of the beer, of course!) in your village; or rip off one chicken leg from each pot, one scoop of rice, and a palmful of matooke and donate it to feeding the thousands.
The legend of Christmas makes you feel it is possible for someone to mobilise every four-wheel-drive vehicle going upcountry to pack an extra kaveera with a loaf of bread, a kilo of sugar, rice, and one or two other small items, then drop it off at a random house with a shout of “Merry Christmas!”
Or maybe families could buy up a medical kit from one of those pharmacies on Nkrumah Road and donate stethoscopes, gloves, bedpans…items that we hear are unavailable in remote, rural health centres.
And if doing without these physical items is too hard, then the elite, well-heeled people could donate a couple of hours of their precious time and give the children and youth in their villages some motivational talking to. Inspiration is a currency much ignored and yet highly impactful; your little chat with a little fellow in your village could make him aspire to be more than a boda-boda man in Kampala – and THAT is very important!
As the hymn goes: “Goodwill henceforth, from heaven to men, begin and never cease…”, these acts of kindness are supposed to be passed on to other people to create a domino effect of spreading happiness around the world.
The Christmas holidays provide the perfect stage for RAK because, it is argued, this is when God gave the world the gift of salvation through his son, Jesus Christ, and we are supposed to pass the gesture on.