I was born and raised in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, and I am obsessed with my homeland.
Like any place, it has its flaws and shortcomings, but what makes it special is its people. Hondurans practice selflessness, compassion, and exert kindness whenever possible.To illustrate this in more colloquial terms, they will “take the bread out of their plates’’ and give it to you if you need it. Growing up surrounded by people like this made me think about kindness in a global context, and whether kindness varied culture by culture. I always asked myself whether I would find the same level of kindness if I suddenly decided to travel the world.
When I was in high school, I had an opportunity to travel to Beijing, China, over the summer to attend a cultural exchange conference. Knowing little about Chinese culture I had no idea what to expect. When I got there, it was clear that language would be a big barrier for the duration of my trip, but I still tried to navigate through that.
It did not take long for me to realize I didn’t need to speak Mandarin to communicate kindness to my tour guides or to the lady who cleaned my hotel room every day. The things I remember most about my trip were the small moments, like when a woman offered me her water bottle after I ran out of water climbing the Great Wall. Or strangers who saw me awkwardly try to take selfies and offered to take my picture instead. Little acts of kindness like those would seem insignificant when you’re home and living your daily routine, but when you’re in a place that’s completely unknown, they can provide a strong sense of comfort.
A few years after my trip to China, I was given the opportunity to travel to Ghana and spend Thanksgiving there, which was not a relevant detail in the beginning of the trip, but it surely became relevant after. Just like in China, I had a significant language barrier with the people in Ghana. However, I had never felt so welcomed and cherished by a group of people in the same way that I did when I was there. They used kindness to communicate with me, and I could not use anything but gratitude to communicate back.
When I was there, my task was to interview people, and I vividly remember trying to interview a mother who spoke a dialect my translator didn’t speak. Within minutes, a group of people started searching the hospital trying to find someone who spoke both my interviewee’s dialect and my translator’s dialect. Long story short, in a matter of twenty minutes, we found two people who could help translate and I was in awe. The way everyone jumped at the chance to help me without asking for anything in return was an act of kindness that might have seemed insignificant, but it meant so much to me.
I mentioned Thanksgiving being a relevant detail in the trip because none of the volunteers there expected to celebrate that day. We left the hotel early in the morning, as we had done every day, and came back at night to find a feast waiting for us. Despite turkey not being a staple in the Ghanaian diet, hotel employees set out to find not one, but two turkeys to cook for us. The meal very closely resembled an American Thanksgiving meal, despite none of those dishes being common or easy to prepare in Ghana. What would have been a quick thirty-minute dinner, (because everyone was always eager to go to sleep after long days,) ended up becoming a three-hour dinner with music, food, and lots of conversation.
On our last day in Ghana, we drove by the shelter where patients from out of town were staying. When we got there, we were met with applause, cheers, and a song prepared for us by all the kids. They had colored a mural and it was one of the most beautiful surprises I will ever experience in my life. I remember standing there with tears streaming down my face because, at that moment, I realized kindness is one of the things that brings people together, no matter where you come from, what language you speak, or the color of your skin.
After the kids sang their song, everyone in the shelter began singing, and I am sure you could have heard them from miles away. People could not find enough ways to express their gratitude to us. The kids drew pictures, the adults made us gifts, they sang, hugged us, and thanked us over and over. I don’t think they realized that we were the ones who were most thankful that morning because every single volunteer had been incredibly touched by that experience.
Since both of those trips, I have been able to travel a little more and visit places that are outside of my comfort zone. After every trip, I have come to the same conclusion: Kindness can bring people together. Kindness has a beautiful way of ignoring our differences for a moment and instead focusing on the fact that we are all humans. What better way to treat each other than with kindness? Through my past experiences, I am convinced that kindness is a universal language, and I am excited to showcase that concept through my year as a Channel Kindness reporter.
Yanelle traveled to China and Ghana with the Operation Smile, a nonprofit medical organization that provides cleft lip and palate surgeries for children worldwide. For more information about Operation Smile or to learn how you can get involved, visit https://www.operationsmile.org/.