Grace Amelia has the same goal we all share: she wants to make the world a better place. But instead of sitting around just hoping humanity will magically become nicer, she has decided to do something about it, starting with her own city. And so the Be Kind Auckland project was born.
Grace, a full time student at Elam School of Fine Arts in Auckland, has recently turned 22. Studying drains away most of her money, so on top of a full time degree, she has two part time jobs: she makes minimum wage as a waitress and spends some time as an intern for Auckland start up Vend.
On top of all of this, she is busy trying to change the world, one act of kindness at a time.
"It sounds corny, but I’ve always been the kind of person who dreamed of changing the world in some way. Being at art school has definitely given me the tools to make this a reality, both in terms of confidence and rebelliousness and in terms of technical skills," she says.
Most of her school projects over the years have tackled social issues and have often involved interacting with the public or creating disruptions in public places. "I’ve also always had a kind of mental list going of ‘kind ideas’ that I wanted to do but couldn’t really incorporate into my university work," she adds. Now, in the last year of her arts degree, she was given more freedom with project topics and also a lot more time to work on them (a full year). "Many of my friends were also launching their own side projects at the beginning of the year, which stemmed from their true passions outside the university context of art. With their inspiration, it didn’t take me very long to realise that this would be the perfect opportunity to launch my own project too; something that would incorporate my values and everything I’d learnt over the past years."
The Be Kind Auckland project, still in its early days, started with simple acts of kind such as thank you cards and emails and delivery of flowers. "It has involved a lot of late nights and guillotines," says the student, who started it off all on her own, before turning to meet up groups to find new people to join her "kind mission". "Although there’s been only a limited response so far, the people I have met have been incredibly influential and helpful in later projects: the Kindness of Flowers was actually suggested by and established with the help of one of my new friends," she says.
Be Kind Auckland now takes up all her waking hours and she is hoping to see it grow into a much more widespread community soon. "There’s not a second that goes by without thinking of some sort of new initiative I could run. I try and take every opportunity that comes my way (e.g. having access to a class room of kids and running an activity with them for the Be Kind Kids video) and am always on the look out for new ways of reaching out to people with my project - I’m no marketer so getting support for Be Kind AKL has been limited to my Facebook friends list," she adds.
In between her multiple jobs, she has made business cards in the hundreds by hand for the project, designed logos and objects, learnt to screen print her own branded clothing, learnt to code a website and even got into Twitter, a bandwagon she embarrassingly admits she had not joined yet. She has also shot and edited hours of film footage, taken and edited dozens of photos, interviewed strangers (with mixed responses), and run around delivering flowers to various people for the majority of the weekends this year.
She is hoping all the hard work will pay off and, in the end, she will have contributed to a kinder society. "I would love to see it grow to a point where the actions and objects simply became assimilated into an every day Auckland culture, where kindness is not the exception but the norm. Expanding to other cities and countries is also a huge goal in the long run. We’ve already had a few people recently get in touch with us about starting similar projects in collaboration with me, both in Wellington and Perth which I almost hit the roof about. Hopefully these are signs of a promising future for the project!"
She has had a lot of great feedback from her kind projects but it hasn't all been roses (further evidence that there is a lot of work to be done to make the world a kinder place). "One of the earlier ideas was to spend a day at a city intersection on a rainy day and offer to walk people across the road who had forgotten their umbrellas. You would not believe the amount of people who turned me down and preferred to walk in the rain than with a (hopefully friendly looking) stranger!"
Grace needs help, though. "I would love to see people really getting behind the project and supporting what we’re doing, either by getting involved by using our cards, forms, and objects, or by suggesting ways in which we can work together to make Auckland a better place. I’m very much a huge supporter of collaboration, and love working with others to come up with new ideas," she says.
"I also desperately need people who are willing to help out with some of our larger scale plans we have for the future... A few of the upcoming projects (including a reverse flashmob) require a team bigger than just one! I’d also love to get some of the projects happening on a larger scale. With the flowers project, there are probably dozens of other florists over the city who would love to be involved. Unfortunately, the logistics of one person coordinating and delivering these on a student budget, as well as maintaining and developing other projects isn’t feasible."
Head over to the Be Kind Auckland website and find out how you can contribute to a kinder city today.