Arab Spring protesters toppled governments. Navy SEALs got the bad guy. And Kate Middleton landed a prince: that was the year that was. But it wasn’t all of the year. Not by a long shot. There were moments of everyday genius. Cool ideas that caught fire. And unsung heroes doing their best. Herewith, let a few of the greats be sung…or at least, read.
1) The pay-if-forward angels. Have you heard about the new trend that began popping up this holiday season? At Kmart stores across the country, kind souls began paying off strangers’ layaway accounts, especially toys and clothing set aside for children. These secret Santas, for the most part preferring to remain anonymous, made Christmas this year for dozens of cash-strapped families. Yay!
2) The folks behind planking. Call it crazy, but we all need a little inspired silliness now and so naturally, we are prone to like planking. Here are the rules: You must lay face down. Your legs must remain straight and together with your toes pointed. Your arms must be placed by your side, held straight with your finger pointed. Then, name your plank and submit a photo or video online. Voila, go plank.
3) The soap collectors. Many of us who travel a lot look at the little bars of barely-used hotel soap we leave behind and think, “what a waste.” Derreck Kayongo looked at all those little bars of soap a saw a chance to save lives. A Ugandan war refugee, Kayongo knew first-hand that many people in developing countries don’t have access to soap and clean water, a simple lack of hygiene that results in millions of deaths from cholera and other sanitation-preventable diseases. And so began Kayongo’s Global Soap Project, which works with more than 300 hotels across the country, to collect, strip, clean and re-cut the hundreds of millions of soap bars discarded in North America each year. Those smaller pieces of soap make their way to places like Kenya and Haiti, where world health officials are working hard to educate people on why and how to wash their hands. For his efforts, Kayongo was named one of the Top 10 CNN Heroes of 2011. But we’d like to recognize the thousands of hotel cleaning staff, as well, for taking a little extra time on their shifts to retrieve all the gently used bars of soap in each room. Soap + water + seeing things differently = great work.
4) The global hacktivists. The innovators and the do-gooders that come together to commit Random Hacks of Kindness, coming up with practical technology ideas that make the world a better place. On a recent weekend in Warsaw, Poland’s first RHoK gathering, 30 hackers brainstormed eight viable projects, among them a “time banking” platform matching people suffering from cancer with volunteer support, and a “Where’s that bike path?!” portal for cyclist-generated content on routing and traffic.
5) The ones who see. Thanks, great photographers. For reminding us that the world we live in is a pretty astonishing place.
To a New Year! May it be filled with more great work.
Photo credit: National Geograpic