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What is the purpose of this education if we don't teach our kids to be kind, compassionate and empathetic, the only traits that can bring us happiness and peace in the long run?
My Act of Heart is a book of stories celebrating real acts of compassion by children from around the world, compiled and edited by Anjali G Sharma and Deepika Ahuja.
Compassion is a basic human trait. Yet in the busy-ness of life, an increasingly perception based outlook, and widespread negativity and hate, we are slowly disconnecting with our empathetic and humane natures. We often forget the positive impact compassion brings to us, the receiver, and the entire world.
What if we could re-kindle this by reaching out to where it exists in its purest form?
My Act of Heart – a global anthology is an attempt in that direction. A compilation of 29 heart-warming stories decked up with 50+ beautiful full colour illustrations and mentionable acts by children from around the world, My Act of Heart inspires the reader for a kinder and more empathetic perspective towards the quotidian.
Here I share our journey of one and a half years, from the inception of the idea to sending this baby out to the world…
I have often felt that in today’s time, we are bringing up our children in a world where there is an illusion of a circle within which we nestle them. And somehow, over the past many decades we have done our best to ensure that this conditioning goes deep inside them… such that, there is a sense of competition, that you can win only if you kick someone out of this circle.
But then, what is the purpose of this education if we don’t teach our kids to be kind, compassionate and empathetic, the only traits that can bring us happiness and peace in the long run? And if happiness is not what we are seeking, then what is this pursuit all about?
Beyond the subjects we learn and try to excel in, it is more important to raise resilient and empathetic children who grow with a sense of purpose. And what could be a better way than the stories themselves – real-life stories based on true acts of compassion performed by children from across the world.
Compassion is often misunderstood as a weakness. However, the truth is that it is an action born out of courage to feel for someone, do something and bring change in a conflicting situation – either about self or for others around self. And children embody it in its purest form – without biases and any lenses.
“I don’t judge myself on how I fared in exams or how beautiful I look, but now I judge myself on how many good deeds I did.”
“I often hear that what will one act of kindness do? But it was one act of kindness and compassion that took me out from the slum, and handheld me to the school. And changed my life.”
These are not just mere statements, but few of the actual anecdotes as shared by children. Does inspire, right?
When Deepika reached out with the idea of this book, watching some of the small acts of compassion by her children, the idea resonated with me. We thought that like us, there would be other parents, children, and their educators who would have such stories to share. What if we could bring all of this together and stitch an engaging quilt of stories?
And that led to the first step in conceptualizing My Act of Heart.
We envisioned a diverse and inclusive compilation of stories of compassion to inspire children and trigger conversations. We started spreading the idea on social media. It was also about the timing, May 2020, when the COVID had shaken the world. The world was pushed to a slow down and then a pause. I still remember how the idea was loved and welcomed by one and all.
Thanks to the help from Charter for Compassion and its network, we received entries from children worldwide. There were stories directly from children, from schools, and from non-profit organisations in English, Hindi, Spanish, and Tamil from across the world – India, Pakistan, Singapore, Australia, Chile, the USA, and Israel. Some came to us as an act in a few lines, others were written elaborately, while many others came as online news links about the awe-inspiring acts children were doing in their capacity in their part of the world.
Each inspiring entry told us about how children acted with compassion, grace and courage when faced with a challenge in real life.
Just like the wings of a butterfly, these little stars of compassion had created believable changes in their and others’ worlds. A reinforcement that “big things come in small packages”.
We reached out and spoke with these children. It was heart-warming and inspiring to see that these children had chosen compassion and empathy over and above everything else when faced with a challenging situation. They could have easily ignored and moved past, but they decided to act.
There was Ailish from Australia, whose letters to homeless people were bringing hope and smiles all across.
Ananya from Hyderabad whose act of self-compassion amazed both Deepika and me as to how a child her age, had chosen to be less hard on herself, something which as adults also we often struggle to do.
Noyonika from Bangalore was helping her mother navigate through the COVID crisis.
Aditya from Ghaziabad showed us the light through his conversations with his grandma who had been diagnosed with lung cancer.
While Grace from Singapore put herself in her friends’ shoes and chose to act out of empathy, 12-year-old, Amalia from Atlanta was penning songs and recording videos to raise money to help children who were losing on their learning during COVID.
There were so many overwhelming nuggets of compassion like these, each one awe-inspiring!
It was a beautiful and surreal experience reading about their acts and talking to these stars. Compassion indeed as a beautiful thread tied them all. It had brought all of us together on a common platform across our diversities, ethnicities, religions and languages.
One thing both Deepika and I agreed since the beginning of this journey was to make this book an enjoyable experience for any reader, and that’s where illustrations played a big role.
Soon, we had illustrators on board to bring a sensory component to the book through design and illustrations. But could there be anything better than to have children draw their own world and the world they saw through these stories? We constituted a team of children for helping us on illustrations with minimal guidelines. The idea was for them to read the stories shared with them and have them draw what touched the most to their hearts about the story.
And there was magic! Wherein the children couldn’t come up with something, we had our brilliant illustrators fill in for them, leading to a beautiful tapestry of words and illustrations in those 200+ pages.
A lot of ideation and work had to be done for structuring the book to make it simple in narrative and engaging for the reader.
There was an emerging thread. We started from self-compassion, extending outwards to friends and family, to strangers, to their communities, to planet and animals. Some of the stories were adapted, written and edited based on our interviews with these stars of compassion, while others were only edited.
All along this process, we made sure that the voice of our stars of compassion was preserved as much as possible. Even the book cover and design layout went through several revisions to reflect the essence of the work.
We wanted to ensure that after a story is read, the reader is also able to relate it with their context and act next time when they face a similar situation in their life. So, after every story, we included a doable activity or a thought to force the reader to reflect and take a step towards building their compassion and empathy muscle stronger.
We launched My Act of Heart in paperback format on Amazon India on February 9th, 2022.
It has been a journey of close to one and half years of ideating and bringing this book to the world. It is heartening to see the reviews as they have started to pour in. And while it has been an intensive path with several lows and losses due to COVID and other hardships during the journey of bringing the book, as I look back, I feel a new dawn shaping up through these stories as they find a home in the hearts of their readers.
I invite you to immerse yourself in these heart-warming stories. Let them inspire you and together, let us make compassion a movement. Leaving you with this beautiful quote from Leo Buscaglia, “Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.”
If you’d like to pick up My Act of Heart curated and edited by Anjali G Sharma and Deepika Ahuja, use our affiliate links at Amazon India, and at Amazon US.
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Image source: My Act of Heart FB page and book cover Amazon
Present - India Lead - Education, Charter for Compassion, Co-Author - Escape Velocity, Writer & Social Activist. Past - DU, Harvard, Telecoms-India and abroad read more...
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