It’s a typical Saturday afternoon on Grafton Street. Swarms of people in all directions do their best to dodge out of each other’s paths.
Near the Stephen’s Green end, a man on stilts rises above a semi-circle of onlookers, threatening to juggle fire – and the stilts.
A little further down the street, a brass band plays “Stand By Me”. Rising above the song is the clickety-clackety of the man who plays the spoons, sitting on a stool on his own.
In the middle of it all, Soraia – her friends call her “Sol” – Silva stands wearing a neon yellow tutu, an orange high-viz vest, and a clown nose. There is a heart on a stick in her hand.
“Hello, would you like to try a lollipop? It’s for free,” she says, to a group of boys passing by. They keep walking. The next people she approaches, a tween girl and her mum, slow to a stop, and smile.
Silva is on Grafton Street today with a group that’s not performing or raising money for a cause. They’re just handing out lollipops as part of a campaign to promote multicultural integration.
Organisers from the Tasnuva Shamim Foundation Ireland said they hoped these random acts of kindness would spark connections and a sense of peace, love, and unity – or, at the very least, a few chats.
Silva, a geography teacher from Brazil, has lived in Dublin for a year and a half. She and her red-nosed compatriots are from the Brazil Clowning Project.
They try to connect children and elderly people. But they’re here today for the #randomkindnessIrl campaign.
Silva has encountered a range of reactions so far. Some people are “not prepared to receive. I think they’re not used to receiving kindness or something like that,” she says.
“And some people are totally open, like, ‘I want one and give me a hug as well,’” she says.
Leila Tarazi, another clown, says you just have to accept it when some people say no, and keep smiling. Eventually someone will say yes.
“When you do this type of volunteering, you always have people who say no or don’t look up. We accept that because we don’t wear the shoes of that person. We don’t know what his feeling is that day,” she says.
Her bag of lollipops is nearly empty.
At Mission HQ
At the control centre – two folding tables positioned between the Camera Centre and Lifestyle Sports – Seham Elnazli replenishes trays of donuts and cookies. If people approach, she offers them a cup of tea.
Elnazli teaches Arabic and is a committee member with the foundation. She says she hopes people will stop and introduce themselves today and feel open enough to talk.
“These kinds of things look small, but they actually mean a lot,” she says.
At the front of the table, banners read: “Peace, love, and unity” and “Kindness is beautiful (and contagious)”. Volunteers filter in and out, replenishing their stores of sweets from big plastic bins. The lollipops are going fast.
Elnazli moved to Ireland from Palestine 17 years ago and is now an Irish citizen. “I’m really happy to live here. It’s my home.”
At her feet, bags of supplies spill out from under the table.
She’s one of the coordinators of the foundation’s hot-food-for-the-homeless initiative. They serve freshly-made food every Friday evening outside the GPO.
“We serve the people there, who are in need in different ways,” she says. Some need food, while others need company and a cup of tea.
“It also gives us a positive energy,” she says.
“I have been searching for a way to heal in life. Life is really challenging for all of us, and I really found that kindness is the best way – to be kind to somebody makes you happy.”
Asghar Butt, a business owner originally from Manchester, who is also a director at the foundation, says he gets a lot out of things like this as well.
“In business, by its nature, you buy for one and sell for two. By its nature, it’s a take,” he says. “And I found, before I joined this, it takes its toll on your soul a little bit when you don’t give back. I found this restored a little bit of balance with me a few years ago when I joined.”
Shamim Ahmad, who founded the Tasnuva Shamim Foundation Ireland, is here today, too. He says he hopes to foster connections because “community is disappearing”.
He has ideas for future projects. One is a community soup kitchen, open to everyone, which would provide a place for people to socialise that doesn’t revolve around alcohol.
He says that, in his experience, many immigrants don’t go to the pub because they don’t drink.
“I’ve never been to a pub in all my life.” He doesn’t drink, and he doesn’t have time, he says.
His 13-year-old daughter, for whom the foundation is named, is disabled and needs 24-hour care, he says.
Many migrants are “affected by isolation and depression”, he says.
Butt, the businessman, said it took a fire alarm going off in his apartment building for him to meet his neighbours.
The digital world is sold as a way to connect with people on the other side of the world, he says. “But we sometimes forget how to connect with the people in front of us”.
That applies to all, he says. “We’re all maybe a little bit lonely, we’re struggling a little bit and we’re saying, ‘I’m here as well and I’m the same.’”
A Constant Effort
“It’s not like those days where you have one community and you grow up with them, and you have friends for life,” says Fidah Ibrahim, an accountant who’s also the communications and event planner for the foundation.
Originally from Malaysia, she’s also lived in Sweden. “You have to keep having these kinds of activities, forming and re-forming your communities. Adapting,” she says.
Ibrahim’s daughter Nabilah Mohammad, who’s 15, is here with a group of friends and their newly-formed group Youth Takeover.
They say they’re “set on doing our part to contribute to our earth and the communities within it”.
They all wear orange high-viz vests with “Tasnuva Shamim Foundation: feeding homeless” written on the back. They clutch their bags of lollipops and wander into the crowd.
Soon, they’re back at the table, empty-handed. The plastic tubs are empty, and the teens are making Tik Tok videos for their social-media campaign.
Things went pretty well for them today, lollipop-wise, they say.
“This is Grafton, you know, the core of community. To be able to see people walking down the street who already have lollipops and are smiling, it just makes my day,” Nabilah says.
She motions towards the group of friends. “Look at how different we are,” she says.
“These guys are my community. We all go to school together, and it’s all about our school community. And we’re expanding that to a Dublin community, and I just think that’s fantastic.”