The Gift Of Gifting "University Without Walls"
Posted by Giang Dang on Nov 30, 2018
We started University Without Walls in 2014. It was a program to engage youth in community work, and to create an experience for reflection of their roles as future professionals. Over the years, the program added GNH (Gross National Happiness), mindfulness practices and lots of immersion in life in community, businesses and non-profit organizations. As we continued, we saw more and more the importance of inner transformation as a basis for any service/contribution that youth want to bring to the world. Having been exposed to ServiceSpace values since 2016, we decided this year to apply it “100 percent”.
So we said no to our donor who had generously supported us. We wanted to offer the program as a gift. Six of our former participants signed up as volunteers and worked for 2 months on the selection of participants, advertising, and all logistics. All six trainers offered their work as a gift. Thirty former participants contributed money which ended up covering all the costs! (At the end, we were 25 USD short). Twenty-two people (former participants, friends, people who knew about the program) sent in gifts. This is incredible: we received rice that a youth and his dad planted themselves; peanut butter a former student made at home; crackers that a mother of a former student made; bookmarks, key chains and bamboo straws all made by former students. A local ceramic workshop offered to teach us to make ceramic jewelry as a gift. Our former students spent hundreds of hours drawing and hand-writing each page for a "21 Days of Reverence" book. They made 21 books as gifts.
Everyday during the last two months, we received news from people about what they were doing. And everyone said they were thankful for being part of this (I guess “this is love").
I felt like magic happened everywhere. The B&B owners offered a 50 percent discount for our accommodations. They ended up cooking all meals for us, and taught our students about a macrobiotic diet (they themselves have practiced macrobiotics for years). They offered their home as our classroom (they had a really nice big house). At the end of the program, their whole family of 3 generations came together and cooked a big meal as a farewell to us. During the 8-day program, some friends of the B&B owners heard about our program and came to help with cooking. A friend of theirs, who is a professional dancer, even offered a therapeutic dance session one day!
I don’t think I can cover all magic that happened. As I wrote these lines, I thought of more and more people who came to offer their hearts. The circle kept widening. Our core team kept looking at each other in amazement. We felt so grateful for all the goodness and generosity that unfolded.
So now we are 10 days after the program ended. A circle started forming in Sai Gon. Several participants started their “Giftivism Initiatives”: collecting plastic bags from community to make eco bricks, upcycling waste into handmade gifts, sharing what they learned from the program to others. Our B&B owners signed up as long-term volunteers for University Without Walls. The wife told me: “My husband and I decided we want to be part of this forever. Our whole family was so happy. You can use our home as a venue any time you want."
I cannot put into words how I feel. It is deep in me. I am so grateful for meeting Nipun, then you all, and the spirit of “giving not the leftovers, but the best of ourselves," has manifested.