Light hasn’t made me more sympathetic

Last week, I missed my train home. It wasn’t a disaster, the next train was coming in just an hour; but that was all the same an undesired hour on my hands that had to be frittered away somewhere. I decided to spend it in a small, picturesque café in downtown Lund where I ordered a caffé americano. I took seat on one of the wooden bar stools, brought the cup to the tip of my nose and let the gentle fragrance from the freshly brewn coffee bring me a subtle sense of pure and simple wellbeing.

I rarely drink coffee nowadays, so the mere smell makes me nostalgic and brings back memories that have been accompanied by it. There, on the old wooden stool, I began sketching on this text. A text about some of the dearest memories that I will keep from my time in Lund. About my two years in our charity project Light, with loads and loads of meetings that have been accompanied by loads and loads of coffee.
Since August, I have been the project leader of Light. The year before that I was the Head of Marketing. When I became project leader, I had a very specific vision: I wanted every LundaEkonom to know what Light is and – if they want to – exactly how they can participate in our work. Some people say that charity isn’t about marketing: I don’t think they could be more wrong. I know the frustration of seeing injustice and not knowing how to fight it. So you stand there with your clenched fists, waiting for an opportunity to do good. All this wellmeaning, all those efforts waiting to be unleashed, are wasted if no one guides those decisive fists towards a meaningful cause. I’m not saying that Light necessarily have succeeded in guiding all our efforts towards a meaningful cause this year, but that has been our vision.

When I recruited my committee in August, I was primarily looking for three things.

Fire.

Fire burning with the intensity of a thousand newborn baby stars, with a will to spread this heat through the entire studentunion. A glowing spark from a bonfire waiting to find a field of dry grass.

Passion.

Passion glowing, like the eyes of Michael Jackson when he tied the last strap on the dance shoes and felt the sole underneath slide along the thin wooden stage. A passion for humans.

Authencity.

Authencity, like the authentic pain in the eyes of an individual with too much empathy. Because empathy can be painful. Almost unbearable, sometimes. That’s why some people choose to look away when they don’t know how to help, because it hurts to see suffering.

Because how could you, a person with a tad too much empathy, handle an 18 year old boy sitting in wet clothes at Clemenstorget, begging for your change? When you remember what you did when you were 18, and you can see in his eyes how much he’s hurting? He tells you that his father got disabled in a car accident, and his mother is hospitalized in Romania with severe heart issues. It’s for her he needs the money, he says. A dog comes forward and sniffs his reached out hands, and the boy laughs. Then you see tears of happiness forming in the corner of his eyes.

 

But at the same time; the pure joy that you and the whole committee feel when this boy manages to get a job. As his English and Swedish grow better, and better, and you become friends. When you meet him in downtown Lund a year later and can’t distinguish him from the rest of your friends; because he’s got the same clothes as you. He tells you that he now can afford an apartment that he shared together with a friend, and that he now works fulltime in a café. If you can bear the pain that comes with empathy, the rewards you get are invaluable. While working with charity you will see people struggling during the hardest times of their lives, but you will also see dandelions breaking through asphalt. And it’s an amazing, heartwarming and deeply inspiring process to witness.

I found the passion, fire and authencity that I was looking for. The same day (or maybe the day after, I have an awful habit of exaggerating) that our new committee was chosen, Emma Karlsson (our new Head of Marketing) called me with a little bit nervous, yet super excited, voice. I thought she would turn down the position, but that was not the case. She wanted to go to Lesbos. Not for a vacation, as a sane person would think. She wanted to go there together with a friend and help refugees who was suffering, in some horrible cases drowning, along the shores of the greek island.

She asked me if we could do something with Light to sponsor clothes and other supplies (preferable money) that she could use and hand out to be able to help as many as possible during the trip. Did I say yes? The Student Union was able to donate 18 collegial hoodies that were left over since last year, which were handed out. Because charity isn’t about following rules. Charity is about following your heart. Emma was following her heart, and her incredible work at Lesbos wouldn’t have been possible if she would’ve listened to every rule and every authority-person who tried to advise her from going there. And for that, I admire her.

Our Head of Staff, Behnam Mahajerzadeh Heidari, is one of the most authentic and at the same time passionate persons I’ve ever had the pleasure to cross paths with. Honestly, I fell flat for him the first time we spoke at the committee mingle in Ljusgården. He quit gymnasiet (swedish college) when he was 17 years old and was, to use his own words, “lost”. Now, he’s one of the top students of LUSEM, treasurer in the national department of Unga KRIS (Young Criminals Return Into Society) and in Crossroads Lund (our former Rector magnificus Per Erikssons umbrella organization for charity workers in Lund), coach of the Swedish elite of young body builders, an excellent lecturer and – I’m proud to say – a part of Light. Behnam is calm, stable and in many ways a social genius. He knows how to talk to, literally, anyone, and not in a “I’ll fake it ‘til you like me”-kind of way. He’s just the down-to-earth kind of guy who makes anyone feel safe and comfortable, at the same time as he has a natural authority in his way to be. And for that, I admire him.

Our Head of External Relations, Charlotte Breitz, came into the project a month or two late. I could talk for an hour about the importance of keeping Charlotte and Emma separated for not turning the whole context into a verbal pillow-fight, but I will focus on Charlotte. She is the kind of person that you want in any committee; warm, funny and gets the work done. On Valentine’s Day, when we worked at three local restaurants (in exchange for 20% of their profits that day), there was a miss in the communication. One of the restaurants was expecting eight staffers, but Charlotte only had three – as that was the number that had been decided on our meeting with the restaurant a few weeks earlier. Charlotte was impossible to reach for the entire day, and I was worried she and the staffers were overwhelmed with work. Were they? Yes, they were. Did Charlotte manage the situation and make the day the most profitable day in Light’s history? Yes, she did. She is the kind of person who you at one hand can have a charming distance to and joke about anything with, but still has the perfect amount of seriousity when it matters. And for that, I admire her.

Together, we’ve broken a whole bunch of records for Light. It’s easy, given how new the project is, but it’s still important to be result-oriented as a charity organization. Our monthly charity dinners (the first monday every month, you can all volunteer!) has more guests now than ever before. We’ve also handed out more gifts (and necessities) than ever before, not least thanks to Vinterbalen. There, we received almost 200 (!) gifts that we went and personally handed out (wrapped up in beautiful present paper) the week before Christmas at an accommodation for refugee children outside Malmö. This wouldn’t have been possible without Linnéa Noelli and her beautiful committee – thank you!

My two years in Light haven’t made me more sympathic, as one might think. Maybe even the other way around. There is no time for sympathy if you truly want to help someone. Actions are what counts; even the smallest action is better than the biggest thought. You can think about someone for your entire life, but without a blanket the person will still be cold.

In a few weeks, my post as a project leader for Light will be put up for you to apply for. Once again, I will sit in interviews, together with the board, and look for that fire, passion and authencity that I found in Emma, Behnam and Charlotte. If you choose to apply, don’t be afraid to act nervous or unprofessional. That won’t be what we’re looking for. We’re looking for someone that can carry the project to new heights, that can develop it way further than I have been able to. We’re looking for empathy, and for someone that can manage the pain that comes with it.

I would like to thank everyone who have made this journey so special for me; this and last years committee, all our staffers, Moroten & Piskan, AF-Borgen and Crossroads Lund. Without you, there would be no Light. Not as I know it, at least.

Oh, how excellent – here comes the train.

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