2013 Annual Report
2013 Annual Report by: Christopher Edward Lowman “The true meaning of life is to plant trees under whose shade you do not expect to sit.” — Nelson Henderson
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About Living Smile Living Smile is an awareness rooted in an understanding of the human condition. Living Smile is not a professional organization or charity or mission. Every one of us—every one— has the potential to be perfectly at ease and content without need or worry. To live effortlessly and happily, to be an eternal, radiating smile. This is our potential. This recognition is held in every interaction, project, and service—big or small. What greater gift is there to give than to show another that they are the gift they’ve been waiting for? There is nothing more sustainable or beneficial than realizing this truth, even a glimmer of it goes a long way to easing those areas in life where we believe we need help. Living Smile likes to collaborate with NGOs (Non-Governmental Organizations) and join with poor or otherwise neglected communities to develop sustainable, needsbased initiatives that improve living conditions. There tends to be an emphasis on values-based youth leadership development to encourage virtuous cycles of change.
at a glance thelivingsmile.org
How do you inspire others to care? Operating on a budget of less than $15,000, 2013 saw considerable growth and expansion in the key areas that Living Smile programs focus on. Character transformation. Effortless community development. Inspired youth leadership. Virtuous cycles of change. Building off the activities conducted throughout 2011, this yearâ€™s fieldwork focused on the Gandhi Leprosy Seva Sangh, a leprosy community located in an impoverished slum area on the outskirts of Ahmedabad in Gujarat, India. Programs were launched in partnership with two reputable NGOs closely linked with the Sabarmati Gandhi Ashram (Mahatma Gandhiâ€™s primary ashram in India): the Environmental Sanitation Institute (ESI) and Manav Sadhna. The experiment at Gandhi Leprosy Seva Sangh has been and continues to be: how do you inspire others to be the change and work towards it in an environment where most have little or no interest in doing so, and for good reason. View a photo journal from the year online here. 1. Significant attention was given toward developing a service-based youth leadership group that formed on its own in the wake of my departure from the community late in 2011. After meeting the group members, I quickly gleaned the opportunity for the not particularly values-based or forward thinking established leadership of the community to be transformed in a generation or two, which could enable positive, constructive change to come from inside of the community, as opposed from the hand of somebody like myself or NGOs. 2. Tapping into the power of environments as catalysts for change, I led an effort to convert an abandoned piece of land in the community into an urban vegetable and flower garden. More than its practical function, it is an alive space rooted in conscious
values (like silence and love of Nature) that invisibly encourage more humane, loving behavior amidst a grinding slum environment. 3. For three months, I facilitated a daily, afterschool program for 16 of the communityâ€™s best and brightest girls, ages ranging from 10 to 18. More than anything, it was an educational experiment to see what happens when you focus on the cultivation and practical application of love, or opening and expression of the heart, and how that can naturally inspire self-motivated action in the direction of service, education, and pursuit of a dream. This program has been, perhaps, the most meaningful and impactful I have conducted to date with kids, also the most controversial given the prevailing attitude in India toward girls and women (i.e., that they are meant to marry young and solely serve the household, as opposed to care or concern themselves with personal development and self-discovery). 4. I set out to realize an ambitious project this yearâ€”build a self-sustaining primary school for 100 poorest of the poor children in a severely neglected slum not far from the city centre of Nairobi, Kenya. After an 11+ month fundraising journey, I raised close to $18,000 (a record) and will be traveling to Nairobi early in 2014 to oversee the last stages of the schoolâ€™s construction and help with the launch. Without question, the inspired fundraising campaign, our sustainability model, and implementation process will make for remarkable storytelling and perhaps inspire similar experiments. 5. My NGO partners in Nairobi shared a powerful story of how members of a criminal gang that worked on a Living Smile project in 2011 (from the same slum we will build the school in), who were being targeted by police, as well as by the terrorist organization Al-Shabaab, voluntarily gave up crime to start a service-based leadership group (similar to the one in India) that is actively involved in the upkeep of their community and earning income for doing so.
Perhaps this is the hallmark effect of our programsâ€”inspiring others to be the change and their own answer, in environments where such behavior is unlikely. This type of self-realized, character-level change is what sustainability is about at the core, as the change is not dependent on any external cause. 6. This year I had an opportunity to address a crowd of 1,000 people on the last day of the Wake Up Festival in Estes Park, Colorado. I shared the stage that day with bestselling author, Jack Kornfield, and spoke about my way of life, as well as some of my project work. The event led to a good connection with the producer of the festival, Tami Simon (who is also the CEO of Sounds True, one of the first and longest-running spiritual media companies), some donations, and many seeds planted in the minds and hearts of the sizable audience. See photos from the event online here.
Be the change you want to see.
review of programs thelivingsmile.org
From “Me 2 We”
The goal with the “Me 2 We” volunteer youth group at Gandhi Seva Sangh was to help gel the group into a more cohesive entity, so the members would feel as if they were part of an official team with a purpose. This was especially important given their challenge of not, by-in-large, receiving support for their service efforts from the established leadership in the community. Instead of work with the entire group, I focused on the five main leaders by sitting with them for one hour each week, over a six month period of time. I figured if we could gel as a nucleus, this would help gel the larger group. It was an exercise in more behindthe-scenes leadership, so as not to create dependency on me for direction, which was somewhat the case in the past. Results have been inspiring. Now, every Saturday, typically, the group gets together to share, check-in, and discuss about projects. On Sunday, they do some form of community service, such as clean the compound or make brooms for sweeping. Recently, the boys of the group created a space to play volleyball, others helped paint a number of old oil cans to be used as trash bins, which were distributed to residents for a small fee. thelivingsmile.org
More than these practical initiatives, I’ve noticed substantial character growth amongst the members, particularly the boys—who represent the future leadership of the community—because of the new values and habits they’ve adopted. A good example is the 14km walking pilgrimage we took to the Gandhi Ashram in honor of Mahatma Gandhi’s birthday. Some who participated might have laughed at the idea of doing something like this in the past, but participated fully and understood the value of the activity. The mere existence of this group is remarkable, given the community they try to serve has been called “City of Beggars” due to the number of leprosy patients who go begging each day (some of who are parents of members of the group). It is a unique, inspiring development I haven’t witnessed in other places I work and testimony to the strength of my NGO partners, and demonstrates the benefit of my full-time presence in the community. If we are interested in sustainably improving impoverished slum areas, you have to inspire others to care, organize, and take action, which is exactly what we have accomplished here. And it is no small feat.
With the core team
Caring for trees
Me 2 We group during a Saturday check-in meeting thelivingsmile.org
14km walking pilgrimage to Gandhi Ashram
Learning to make brooms thelivingsmile.org
Creating a community volleyball court
Making brooms for sanitation programs thelivingsmile.org
Painting oil tins to be used as waste bins
Mouna (“Silence”) Garden
Broken Windows Theory is the unconventional idea by social scientists James Wilson and George Kelling about how our physical environments have a profound, if not fatalistic impact on human behavior. There is the famous case in New York City where crime rates fell dramatically when the police department and transit authority—instead of installing more cameras or hiring more officers—decided to remove graffiti from subways, fix broken windows, implement a zero tolerance public drinking and urination policy, and so on. According to the theory, when these types of issues are plain sight, messages such as, “nobody cares,” “nobody is watching,” and “you can do anything you want” are subtly communicated, helping to attract crime and similar behavior. By repairing the physical environment and treating it with care, you can deter unwanted behavior without focusing on the behavior itself. And New York City, which has implemented a number of like beautification measures over the years, is now one of the safest cities in the world. I often talk about this dynamic when describing life in a slum environment and how you get into the vicious cycle situation. The physical environment of a slum is poor. Building infrastructure and integrity are shoddy. You’ll have numerous members of one family living in cramped spaces without electricity, sometimes without windows. Hazardous thelivingsmile.org
sanitation issues abound due to the absence of toilets and drainage systems, giving rise to dirty, disease-causing drinking water. Because of the stress from living in poverty, often there is open alcohol and drug use. The actual environmentâ€”an incubator of sorts that begets experienceâ€”encourages people to lose hope and stop caring, which negatively impacts behavior (viz crime, lack of sanitation and personal hygiene, forsaking education, prostitution, drug use, etc.), which then negatively impacts the environment again and on and on until something gives.
Small is big. The environment at Gandhi Leprosy Seva Sangh is not as harsh as other slum areas Iâ€™ve seen. Nevertheless, the community deals with its fair share of sanitation problems and compromised infrastructure. There is open urination and defecation, and it is common for members to spit and litter. The underlying issue is the typical resignation when you consider yourself to be a low class member of society living in poverty, lack of education, and also, importantly, being disconnected from natural beauty (the community is situated in a fairly neglected, polluted part of the city within footsteps of a sewage canal). I was given permission to convert an unsightly, abandoned piece of land that was collecting trash into a flower and vegetable garden, with the idea for it to be a space that encourages more humane and loving behavior. The garden, I hope, will also be an educational tool that teaches, without teaching, the importance of sanitation, love and respect of Nature, as well as how environments affect our behavior. Financing for the majority of this project, a little less than $1,000, came through a donor connected to my NGO partners. Maintenance will be handled voluntarily by a member of the community who enjoys farming and who will take some of the produce as payment.
Measuring with a builder thelivingsmile.org
Beginning clean up effort with kids
Building new walls thelivingsmile.org
Laying new soil thelivingsmile.org
Constructing vegetable and flower beds
Beds complete thelivingsmile.org
The space is filled with positive imagery to encourage like behavior thelivingsmile.org
Mouna complete after flower beautification thelivingsmile.org
Where It Matters Most
The vision with the three month all girls after school program I facilitated was to test and see what happens when you focus solely on the opening and expression of your heart, and how this might naturally inspire other important areas, such as valuing service, education, and believing in your dream. Girls and women in India, to this day, are considered “lesser than,” many of whom are raised solely to serve house, husbands, and children, and who usually end up marrying before age 20. Times are changing, however, and more girls are growing up resisting this paradigm—instead, they are wanting to pursue their education and get to know themselves first, before marriage. Half of the class, as an example, was composed of students who decided to enter into their junior and senior years of secondary school (US equivalent of high school), when most do not go past their sophomore year. School fees increase at this grade level and what’s the point (families reason) if you’re going to marry and not have to think about making money? The particulars of this program have already been documented in detail online here. I will share two results, which should paint a picture for the larger whole and give a taste for the kind of success we enjoyed. thelivingsmile.org
A free dinner is served daily in the community to 30 of the neediest leprosy patients who all beg and have no family support. Without being asked or suggested, a little more than half of the class started participating in the dinner by showing up daily to sing bhajans (devotional songs) and assist with meal serving and cleanup. This started a little after the eight week point in the class, and everybody involved intends to continue volunteering like this. Again, nobody in the group is older than 18 and each could be using their limited free time to do a number of other things than perform community service. One of the concepts we have come back to repeatedly is that you don’t have to ask for anything you need—as Rumi says, “Every need brings in what’s needed,” and by continually asking for something, as if it were not going to come, you can attract the opposite of what you’re asking for. Instead, I have taught the best way to receive is to give. To serve others. To share inspiration in your heart. To work hard. And that genuine effort toward these things is always rewarded. By in large, this is a foreign—though relevant—idea given the financial status of most members of the community, the amount of begging that occurs, and the seemingly logical notion that if you are living in poverty, it doesn’t make sense to give when you, yourself are struggling.
Giving is receiving. Toward the end of the class, the girls had an opportunity to design and host an appreciation program for all their mothers. Students were given full responsibility for the event with little supervision—agenda, invitations, hall cleaning and decorating, snacks, gift distribution, welcoming guests, and emceeing. All I did was provide a modest budget for expenditures, and a little oversight. Honestly, it was one of the most beautiful programs I have witnessed in the community. The students decorated and cleaned the hall beautifully, were highly organized and worked together, and guided a program, with well over 50 in attendance, that had some of the mothers in tears, overwhelmed by the show of generosity and love from their daughters. Putting the girls in a leadership role like this not only taught them that they can create results on their own, it also demonstrated to their mothers and the community their ability to do something else—very well—besides routine chores of cleaning, cooking, and serving. thelivingsmile.org
In addition, each stood up and gave a one to two-minute speech about the class and what they got out of it. Since the beginning, we have focused on public speaking and expanding comfort zones. At first, it was difficult for the girls to speak in front of others. They would talk rapidly, get embarrassed, or show fidgety body language. During this program, I saw very little of the behavior as each shared, one-by-one, appearing confident and comfortable. One evenÂ broke down crying and had to stop speaking when she discussed her positive experience in the class. For these reasons and others, I would say this afterschool experience has been the most meaningful and transformative Living Smile program for kids to date. The format and process can easily be replicated in other geographies, and results should make for inspired storytelling in presentations. Financing for this program, approximately $400, came from three private donors.
Jayshree prepares a flower rangoli for class thelivingsmile.org
Kids interacted with several inspiring guests like Nimesh Patel
Tackling a clean up project on a Friday day of service thelivingsmile.org
Every Thursday was a day for yoga and a freshly cooked snack
â€œWhen you give the gift from the heart, it comes back to youâ€? thelivingsmile.org
Voluntarily cleaning dishes for leprosy patient dinner program
Practicing public speaking thelivingsmile.org
Gift distribution to needy members of surrounding slum area
Having fun thelivingsmile.org
Motherâ€™s appreciation program run entirely by students
Girls believe in themselves and their value more than before
Building Our First School
After solving a dangerous open sewer problem that positively impacted the lives of over 6,000 people in the Kituii Ndogo slum in Nairobi, Kenya in 2011, we decided to address the next most urgent need in the community, as communicated to us by the local leadership: build a primary school to serve a portion of the estimated 2,000 children not receiving any kind of formal education due to their extreme level of poverty. The Government of Kenya does not provide ubiquitous free schooling (unlike in India). Government-run schools require some fees, which typically prevent children living in poverty from attending. This has led to the creation of community-based schools, operated on the grassroots level, that offer free or low-cost schooling—in most cases, they are supported by foreign donors or religious organizations. Living Smile takes sustainability seriously and puts it at the centre of any intervention. When visioning about the proposed school, it was important to all of us for it to be selfsustaining and not reliant on external financial support. That’s why we budgeted for a 10,000 litre water tank to sell clean drinking water to members of the neighboring community, the profits of which will underwrite the school’s monthly expenses. We will also insist on a “token” fee from each child of no more than $1/month (incomparably lower than any private or government-run school). With our capacity for 100 students, those fees end up becoming a viable source of income and, importantly, force the issue of parental involvement. If aid is handed out for free, especially in slum environments, it won’t necessarily be valued, which can negatively impact sustainability. After an 11+ month fundraising journey, including the first Living Smile fundraising event in New York City, we reached our goal of nearly $18,000 (a record amount) in thelivingsmile.org
early December. Construction, as of publishing of this report, is currently underway and we intend to open the schoolâ€™s doors early February, 2014. It could be the case that constructing a self-sustaining primary school serving kids in one of the harshest, most neglected slums Iâ€™ve ever seen, and all the anticipated stories of impact and change, will add significant credibility to the Living Smile development record, which could positively benefit future initiatives.
Jared Akama (from partner NGO, CEPACET) signing paperwork that made us official landowners of the school property
Head Teacher, Grace Kavoi, with the water setup that will sustain the school
Construction underway thelivingsmile.org
The aforementioned sewage project we completed in Kituii Ndogo had a radical ripple effect, demonstrating the long-term value Living Smile projects can have after intervention, also revealing an effective solution to crime and terrorism that doesn’t involve billion dollar budgets or added security measures. I didn't know it at the time, but members of a local criminal gang in this slum performed the majority of the labor for the project. This was a gang being watched by police and targeted for recruitment1 by the terrorist group Al-Shabaab—the same organization that carried out the Westgate mall attacks in Nairobi that grabbed international headlines late in 2013. Here are snippets of the story from my partners from the Centre for Partnership and Civic Engagement (CEPACET). Chryspin Afifu, Programs Director, writes: “The sewage project they worked on became an eye opener. The youths collectively yearned for a decent livelihood free from danger. They realized Kituii Ndogo was their home and they must participate actively in keeping it clean. The frequent meetings 1
Terrorist groups prey on individuals living in poverty and offer a way out, provided you perform the will of the organization. Members of terrorist groups are not always criminal at heart, but desperate. thelivingsmile.org
they held to discuss about the trenches they dug bound them together... and a number of circumstances weighed down upon them to rethink their lives.” (Emphasis added.) Jared Akama, Executive Director, writes: “The project has addressed the issue of crime by creating employment for the criminal gang members. The residents decided to contribute 10 shillings/household and give it to the youths in the gang to clean the trenches they built. By creating employment, the youths have left crime and they now envision to expand their efforts and engage other youths in similar circumstances.” (Emphasis added.) In other words, the spirit of the project inspired the members of the gang—youths involved in crime who were being targeted by police and a terrorist group—to care. They took charge of the daily maintenance and cleanliness of the trenches they built, which led residents to pay them for their work. With this new inspiration, desire to serve, and steady income, they had enough reason to leave their criminal ways behind. The former G-Jue performing community service members of the gang call their new group “G-Jue.” G for generation and Jue meaning “know yourself” in Swahili. It's a name I might have recommended if I were with them, but I promise I had nothing to do with it. G-Jue members will be involved with the construction of the school and serve as role models and mentors for all the kids we expect to graduate, demonstrating you do not need to choose a life of crime, that you can still care when you have legitimate reasons not to. We believe this model of inspiration and youth leadership will spark a process of change that, over time, will transform Kituii Ndogo from the inside-out with little need thelivingsmile.org
for further intervention, and create a compelling story of how a little energy invested in the place where it matters most, can move mountains.
A Crowd of 1,000
There is a kind of reliable magic that seems to be involved with my life and programs, which I usually frame in the context of the effortlessness that comes when you are not seeking for personal gain, and seek instead to humbly serve the inspiration in your heart. I’ve witnessed successful fundraising campaigns with little or no marketing, the right resources showing up at the right time when I’ve least expected it, as well as the right people—not to mention the sustainability of my somewhat unconventional life of continuous travel and service. This was the case checking my email one morning to find a message from Tami Simon, the CEO of Sounds True—who has helped launch the successful publishing careers of bestselling authors Mark Nepo and Adyashanti—inviting me to speak at her newly founded Wake Up Festival in Estes Park, Colorado. The Wake Up Festival is a 5-day event, offering a transformative experience for individuals looking to heal themselves and lead a life of greater authenticity and purpose.
Tami found me through mutual friends and said she wanted to align the 2013 festival with Living Smile, give me a prime speaking spot on the main stage in front of 1,000 attendees, as well as share 10% of the festivalâ€™s proceeds to support my programs. The talk I gave highlighted some of my lifestyle choices and stories from the field, in the context of the riches available to us when we surrender our personal will that fights for survival, to a larger will that informs us from within, that presents us with opportunities for us to share our inborn talents and abilities, and ensures there is food enough on the table for us to do so. Speaking opportunities of the sort directly tie into my plan for continued sustainability. To this end, publishing books and material online to cultivate them continues to be a focus of mine. I expect to release my first book, No is Yes to Truth, early in 2014.
With Jack Kornfield and Annie Lamott
Christopher Edward Lowman Christopher spends extended portions of the year living and working in impoverished slum areas in India and Africa. To date, his humanitarian efforts, that especially encourage youth leadership and sustainability, have positively impacted the lives of over 7,000 people. He has given his life to the service of humanity, lives in a perpetual state of travel without a fixed residence, is 100% sustained by the generosity of others, and shares a message of living effortlessly and selflessly.
Contact Living Smile 836 Anacapa Suite 1506 Santa Barbara, California 93102 USA Email: email@example.com Phone: +1 805 699 6511 Web: www.thelivingsmile.org