When I first watched Megan Murphy’s “Origin” video on The Kindness Rocks webpage, there were a few things that connected me to her mission. First, she had an affinity for heart-shaped rocks, which is also my favorite hunt when walking rocky shores. It feels so exciting when I find them – like a special treasure – lost in a sea of extraordinary. Take a peek at my favorite, found in Iceland!
But, more important than our heart rock connection, I listened as Megan shared about how she began having beach walk “conversations” after losing her parents in her early 20’s, looking for signs and symbols of their responses during her daily life. For her, discovering rocks and sea glass were like the words she needed to hear to know her parents were paying attention as her life evolved. One day, with a Sharpie in hand, Megan left rocky words of inspiration on her favorite beach, and was inspired by a text from a friend who found one, guessed she was the person who left it behind, and told her how much that small gesture meant. And with that, a movement of kindness was created.
In my own life, and especially while far from home with the freedom of a rested and attentive mind, I have the luxury of the same types of conversations Megan has – but also with the ability to keep my eyes and heart open for those returning signs of continued connection. Losing people in my life froze time in those relationships, but also became the trajectory that guides how I live life and relate to others years later. In retrospect, losing my parents in my early 20’s cuts particularly deeply because I wasn’t a great version of myself – carrying a independent spirit that was also selfish, stubborn, unappreciative of their influence, and bit rude. I wasn’t aware of their lasting legacy in my life, and some of my memories make me cringe. Losing my brother years later brought a different kind of sadness because we shared more years of life together and his influence and sense of humor are sorely missed while facing life’s new challenges. With all that said, Megan’s message of seeking signs resonated because I do the same – feeling comfort in my belief that we are still connected – and I can use their lives – and their strengths gained to help make a difference and share hope.
After watching Megan’s video, I knew I wanted to connect Hope Travels with The Kindness Rocks Project because they both promote simple ways for people to build communities while traveling. Sharing rocks, like Hope Travels, tangibly promotes the power of small acts of kindness. The goal of The Kindness Rocks project is simple – to connect many, inspire & empower others to join us in creating a kinder world! The concept of the project is simple – paint a rock, add a loving message, and leave it behind for someone to find. Often, rocks are built by communities who put the rocks together in gardens that are not only artistic, but leave a space for people to assemble as a community.
I reached out via email, like I have done with hundreds of other potential partners on this journey, and her immediate and positive response supported my notion that there was something special about Megan and her mission. She not only responded positively, but shipped a package of rocks, markers, and activity cards for my journey. As a woman on a mission to pack lightly, I had to laugh at the fact there would come a time when I was literally carrying a box of rocks.
My first venture into creating rocks took place on the last day of the “Hope Travels” and “More Friends Than the Mountains” projects in Kurdistan/Iraq. After traveling through Kurdistan sharing hope through community murals and kites in partnership with Jason Everett and our Kurdish partners, it occurred to us that each child we met was so unique – bringing their own colorful and glorious personalities to the camps where they lived.
Painted rocks seemed like a way to not only share kindness, but to symbolically showcase the beautiful children confined to these challenging circumstances. We met with small groups of children and the center educator as Hassan Sham IDP camp where we talked about how there might be times when you feel you have nothing to share, but in reality, you actually do – the gift of kindness. Children designed messages of kindness, hope, and Kurdish pride that added a bit of color to their play area.
AlHadaf, a nonprofit in Amman, Jordan that supports refugees and foster parents, became the center of rock painting activity. Children and adults designed beautiful creations during art therapy sessions focused on the power of kindness. Art therapy can seem daunting for non-artists, but there is something disarming about this project that allows everyone to connect and share in the process. Many of the refugees at AlHadaf are waiting for asylum after being forced to leave their homes and lives behind because of their religious convictions – so it wasn’t surprising that many of their rocks combined messages of faith and hope. Their beautiful collective garden proudly welcomes them back to the center each week when they participate in English lessons and vocational classes. Again, I was struck by the connection between the people and their rocks – the idea that each of us holds unique beauty and messages worthy of being shared.
In Jordan, the rock projects took hold as I became more adept at connecting this project with mental health education.
After these initial experiences, Kindness Rocks projects have become a staple of the Hope Travels effort to develop global partnerships related to positive mental health and sharing hope. Wherever I go, I carry paintbrushes and markers, but I have also learned to just hunt locally for rocks.
My most recent rock project was a HUGE undertaking with partners at a community center in Namibia. Fourteen years ago, Patricia Sola and John Mafukidze began cooking food out of their kitchen and bringing it to nearby informal settlements. From this humble beginning, Hope Initiatives South Africa (HISA) currently works to empower hundreds of children each day through education, food and nourishment, and capacity building. Their community center sits in the middle of Kilmandjaro informal settlement, surrounded by small houses made of corrugated aluminum.
The center is a constant hub of activity for many children, often who are vulnerable as they face serious challenges in addition to hunger, such as trauma, abuse, neglect, limited access to education, and minimal healthcare. Outside of their daycare and early childhood programs, HISA provides children with hot meals and a place to enjoy each other safely during after school programs.
Driving through Kilimandjaro Settlement feels heavy as the houses are small, full, and often have limited resources and water. The appearance of the large green HISA structure is welcome – especially when you hear the loud laughter and fun pouring through the fences.
When I met with Steph, who is a Peace Corps volunteer, we talked about the powerful prospect of adding more color to this space and building community spirit by having the kids do the work. After completing our first mural projects, we introduced idea of painting rocks by working on a project that combined rocks artistically created by students in Community Unit School District 201 with those painted by children at HISA.
Then, we moved to large boulders where children often sit to enjoy their meals, that we thought would look great with a splash of color. Naturally, this turned into a Kindness Rocks project that we deemed the “World’s Largest Kindness Rocks Garden.”
When working with on murals with Leena, an artist in Mauritania, I learned how to include large groups of kids in painting projects. While the prospect can be daunting, and paint is naturally spilled often, we used all kinds of techniques to ease the process. Here are a few to others to consider…
- Giving each child a small container of paint created from a cut water bottle equals less mess
- Buying a 5 gallon tubs of white paint and separate bottles of colorful dye equals many options of colors
- Finding patterns that are easy to create like polka dots, puzzle pieces, and sponge painting equal involvement by more kids at the same time
- Having an area for side work equals involvement by kids who are just too young to follow a plan, but are eager to be involved
- Recognizing leadership within the ranks of the crew makes set-up and cleaning easier as their training comes in handy as the project proceeds
- Overall, the best lesson I have learned, which is also my best teaching advice is to never underestimate the power of children when their mission is clear and systems are set up for their success
Our jumbo garden was a massive undertaking for a labor force consisting of 4-13 year olds, but after seven days of painting under the hot Namibian sun, we did it.
It was chaotic. It was creative. It was a bit exhausting. But, the children beamed with pride and ownership as these plain rocks transformed into messages of hope, love, peace, and more. People drawn into the center by children were happily provided tours of their work and an overview of the messages shared.
Megan Murphy has been a valued and appreciated partner in our rock painting projects, and I look forward to spreading her mission as my travels in Africa culminate in Malawi and I move on to SE Asia for the final months of the Hope Travels journey.
You can learn more about the work we have done to support the work of Hope for the Day on a global positive mental health Hope Travels mission by joining our Facebook group here.