Homeless man with a sign that says "Seeking human kindness"

Image by Matt Collamer from Unsplash

This week is World Mental Health Awareness Week, hosted by the Mental Health Foundation, and the theme is kindness. What acts of kindness have you been doing for yourself and for others? Do share with me in the comment section. I have been focusing on the arts, which you will hear more about now.

We are already more than two months into this ‘new normal’, caused by the ongoing coronavirus (COVID19) pandemic. It has now been a while since our daily lives took on a new look. It seems like a fitting time to be both self aware, consider how we are coping ourselves in this odd situation, and to show concern for others and to do something for someone else.

Although you have no doubt heard it many times before, “be kind to yourself” is the beginning of the journey towards being able to be kind to others. There are many helpful articles and resources out there to help us cope better with these trying times. I also covered it a bit in my article from two months ago. Since then, I have had my own struggles with keeping a good routine, giving myself breaks, not overworking or feeling overwhelmed, and eating regularly.

Once you become aware of what is going on with you, you are in a much better place to do something about it. Understanding what you need and working on making sure that you look after yourself also helps you become more open to other peoples’ needs.

Joy through art & doing something for a greater cause

One thing that I realised early on was that although my face-to-face activities with the Red Cross had come to an abrupt halt, I still needed to do something which would have a positive impact on someone else. I needed to help others in these times of COVID19. Fortunately, it turned out that there was plenty for me to try my hand at.

I also needed the arts. I needed to engage with my new life in a creative way. I have been out and about with my Sony a6000 camera, either in my backpack or around my neck, snapping away happily at moss, trees, landscapes, animals, buildings and even the odd human being. I have picked up the piano again and dabbled with art therapy. I have a backload of pictures to go through and edit (before I publish them on Flickr), several piano pieces to master, and I definitely need more art therapy. Having two jobs and a bunch of volunteering does take up a lot of my time though. It is a constant struggle for balance.

Prison art

I have followed the work of Koestler Arts, “the UK’s best-known prison arts charity”, for over ten years now and in April, I found out via their newsletter, that they were looking for volunteers to provide anonymous feedback to this year’s submissions to the Koestler Awards. I seized the opportunity and signed up immediately.

Since then I have submitted anonymous feedback to seventeen visual artworks. These varied from paintings, drawings and prints to artworks made using wood cuttings or by repurposing objects. The aim is to support the artists, who are secure patients or detainees, providing them with feedback and ideas on how to develop their art.

I found the work both fascinating and rewarding. I spent countless hours writing responses and looking for useful recommendations to make for each entrant, pointing them to artists and artistic works that I thought they might like or that could assist them on their artistic journey. I experienced total immersion, either during the day, in the evening, or in the early hours of the morning.

Next, I have three batches of poetry submissions to go through, which will no doubt be an entirely different experience. The written word is a completely different medium of expression than visual art, and one which will require me to dig deeper into my memory and do further research so that I can come up with helpful recommendations. I look forward to the challenge. As someone who loves to write myself, I should be up to the task!

Kahoot quizzes & Bergen Red Cross going digital

In the meantime, at the Bergen Red Cross, we have been experimenting with online activities to offer our “Døråpner” participants (see my previous article for an explanation). We tried half-hour sessions of fitness training with a volunteer from my climbing group, we also launched a weekly Kahoot quiz, with the winner announced on a livestream on Friday evenings, run by a couple of volunteers from the Red Cross building in town.

We found it hard to get the number of participants joining that we wanted, but several weeks in and after several live streams on Norway’s national day on 17 May, we have seen engagement levels finally rise. Getting people to join online platforms and events takes time, as did adapting to our new circumstances. It is also not how the Red Cross is used to communicating with its users, preferring face-to-face human interactions. This has rendered it rather challenging to come up with something to offer online.

This week’s Red Cross Kahoot quiz was on horses (made by guess who?), and it ends this afternoon, so I am eager to see how many people will take it. Last time I checked it was only six. This week, we also announced that some face-to-face activities would be starting up again from next week. We can have groups of up to 20 participants, following Norwegian rules, and there are a number of precautions to take. Once a week we will go for walks in and around Bergen, and another day will be for social activities either in the Red Cross house (showing live football matches from the local club Brann, chatting and drinking coffee), or outside (weather permitting).

I was planning on bringing up some more volunteering activities that I have been doing in the area of wilderness this time, though I now realise that that will have to be a future article.

I would love to hear your thoughts so please do comment below. If you would like to share your experience or ideas with me, contact me directly on LinkedIn or here.