Kindness Challenge – The Power of a Smile

Livewire event

Making a difference is one of my two key values I try and live by every day and this week I was reminded of a story from when I was a child.

When I was aged 5 or 6, living in Vancouver Canada, I woke up one morning unable to move my legs. In fact, I was paralysed below the waist, unable to move. I had tried to get out of bed and fallen in a heap, screaming for my Mum and Dad, who rushed in to see me lying on the floor.

They quickly rushed me to hospital, where I was sent to different areas for multiple doctors to do multiple tests on me. After what must have been a few hours I was eventually given a room in the children’s cancer ward, where I would stay with my Mum (who would slept each night on a mattress on the floor besides me). Over the next 7 or 8 days, I had multiple tests however the cause for my sudden paralysis was still a mystery.

Besides the initial shock of not being able to walk, I never felt scared, and my memory of that time is full of things that make me smile. Obviously key to this was the safety of having my Mum by my side every day, along with my sister and Dad coming in and visiting. There were however others that went out of their way every day to make sure I had a smile on my face.

Volunteers in the hospital would visit me in bed and we would play games like snakes and ladders and checkers. They read comics and story books. They stayed for hours talking about NFL and NHL, my two favourite sports at the time. They wanted to take my mind away from being in a cold, sterile, 1980’s hospital. Away from the worry. They wanted to bring a smile to my young face.

I have a vivid memory one day of my Mum wheeling me to a room to play with other children. I remember playing for what seemed like hours with another child who had no hair (a result of recent chemotherapy) and the two of us laughed and played with those incredible volunteers. I had no idea why he was bald, and he had no idea why I wasn’t able to walk but it didn’t matter, these incredible volunteers had us entertained and at that moment, that’s all we cared about.

My Mum tells me about the rehabilitation I went through to walk and gain strength in my legs again (although I have no memory of that) and eventually I was strong enough to go home. No matter how many tests they did, the only explanation Doctors could come up with was that it must have been a viral infection being the cause of the initial paralysis. I was lucky, I had only been in hospital for over a week, I recovered, and I had a loving Mother and family by my side the whole time.

When I think back on this time though I still only see the laughter, the games, the stories, and the volunteers who did so much to make sure I kept as happy as possible. In what could have been a terribly traumatic time, these volunteers became superheroes. They made me smile.

A key part of the work we do at SolarBuddy is our STEM education program where Australian school children can learn about energy poverty, make a solar light for a child in energy poverty, and help illuminate one child and one community through the gift of light.

I’m not sure whether I subconsciously remembered my time in hospital when I was a child, but I started on a passion project last year to see if we could help give kids living with their own challenges the opportunity to help change the life of another.

Through my network, I connected to multiple charities doing incredible work supporting young children and teens in Australia. I reached out to connections at the Sydney Swans who introduced me to the team at Redkite. They suggested I speak to the Starlight Foundation and that is where I connected with the incredible Kathryn Tohill. Together we worked on a program suitable for LiveWire, a free online community connecting teens living with illness or disability, & their siblings, in Australia or New Zealand.

Partnership for the Goals is key to our work at SolarBuddy and just like those volunteers that helped me, Starlight does the work of heroes every day. We spoke about possibilities, wanting to help give these kids a way to take their mind of the day-to-day challenges they faced but more importantly put a smile on their face.

The Starlight Foundation and LiveWire have a fantastic term for this ‘positive distraction’.

The best bit of this program is while making these Aussie teens smile, they were also changing the lives of similar-aged kids around the world living in energy poverty, helping them smile with the gift of light.

To get the LiveWire community excited for the session, I reached out to SolarBuddy ambassador, former Matilda, and one awesome human, Amy Chapman to join and share her story. There was no question, she was in. At the same time, I reached out to one of our fantastic supporters, eSuite Talent a passionate partner of SolarBuddy and fellow 1% for the Planet member to see if they would be willing to fund the lights and program. The call with eSuite Director, Emily Haydon, lasted less than five minutes – “100% yes” was the response.

Emily and eSuite helped us get the lights to the Starlight Foundation who in turn promoted the session to their community. With Amy’s name on the invite teens across Australia signed up. The solar lights were sent out and at 6pm, on the 22nd of April, Amy, myself and awesome LiveWire facilitator Bella, joined together to run the first ever SolarBuddy and LiveWire ‘Kindness Challenge’ for Earth Day 2022.

The impact was huge – changing the lives of 125 people living in extreme energy poverty; reducing over 32 tonnes of CO2, the equivalent of planting over 530 trees; and creating over 182,000 additional study hours for children living in energy poverty.

“This is such a cool event especially since it’s about kindness”“this is a big moment for me”“first time I am celebrating earth day”

To the Starlight Foundation and LiveWire teams, thank you for the incredible work you do. To Amy, Emily and the eSuite team, thank you for helping bring this session to light. And finally, to the incredibly strong teenagers who joined the session to make an impact to peers across the globe, thank you for taking time to help change the life of another.

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SolarBuddy is an impact organisation uniting a global community to illuminate the futures of all children.

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