Last summer, UC Irvine senior Jasmine Fang traveled to the rural Dominican Republic province of Elías Piña to build latrines for residents and teach public hygiene. She learned something too: the value of community.
Evenings and weekends, families would gather to play basketball, jump rope or just socialize. Says Fang: “People in the Dominican Republic really appreciate togetherness. They don’t stay indoors playing video games like we do here.”
The experience led her to think about how she could engage her own community. Fang is taking the first step by sponsoring Kindness Month at UCI with funds from the XIV Dalai Lama Endowed Scholarship she received last year.
The annual award goes to UCI juniors and seniors who propose projects promoting ethics, peace, compassionate leadership, or local and global responsibility. It comes with $7,500 in scholarship money plus $2,500 for project costs.
Involving dozens of student and community groups, Kindness Month – which takes place in May – will feature daily activities such as American Sign Language classes, creating photo frames for incarcerated mothers, free hugs, and making get-well cards for hospitalized children. An information booth will be on the Student Center terrace May 6-27.
“People are so often separated by race and religion, but I think we need to move beyond the hostility and treat each other with a little bit of kindness and compassion,” Fang says.
Co-organizers of the campuswide endeavor include past Dalai Lama Scholars, the Flying Samaritans, The UCI Bookstore, the Women & Criminal Justice Network, NewSong Church’s The Edge and Anteaters Tzu Ching.
Despite a full course load and demanding internship at pharmaceutical giant Allergan, Fang leads weekly Kindness Month committee meetings. She also is publicizing the event via a Web site, Facebook and Twitter.
Karina Hamilton, executive director of UCI’s SAGE Scholars Program, helped launch the Dalai Lama scholarship and serves as an adviser to Fang and the other Kindness Month planners.
“Jasmine has a quiet leadership style and is very inclusive in her efforts to bring diverse campus organizations together,” Hamilton says. “It’s been fun to watch this evolve from a proposal to a monthlong undertaking by numerous student groups.”
Fang will graduate this spring and intends to work for a year before applying to graduate programs. She would like to see Kindness Month become an annual UCI tradition.
“I hope this can be a unifying project on campus,” Fang says.