Social Psychology Network

Maintained by Scott Plous, Wesleyan University

2022 Day of Compassion Award

Gloria's FoundationBetween 2013 and 2022, more than 1.2 million students from over 200 countries took a Social Psychology "MOOC" (massive open online course) offered by Wesleyan University and hosted by Coursera.org.

The final assignment of the course, "The Day of Compassion," asked students to live 24 hours as compassionately as possible and to analyze the experience using social psychology. In a version of the course that ran from October 8, 2018, through July 1, 2022, more than 15,000 students submitted the assignment, and over 5,000 of the highest scoring essays were reviewed by the teaching staff to decide which one deserved a Day of Compassion Award sponsored by Social Psychology Network.

The grand prize winner below met famed women's rights activist Gloria Steinem and MOOC instructor Scott Plous in an award presentation event on September 21, 2022. In addition, Social Psychology Network donated $5,000 to Gloria's Foundation in honor of the winner and $500 in the name of each Honorable Mention recipient listed below—a total of $10,000 in support of the Foundation. Here are some other pages related to the assignment:

Grand Prize Winner: Kristina Kanckova

Geeta's prosthetic hand Back in 2016, Kristina Kanckova left her home country of Slovakia to spend two months as a volunteer teacher in Nepal. During that trip, she befriended a woman whom her Day of Compassion report refers to as "Geeta" (a pseudonym to protect Geeta's privacy). Geeta was born without a right hand and grew up in an orphanage after her parents died. Later, when Geeta became a mother, her disability made it difficult to raise her young daughter or find steady employment. On Kristina's Day of Compassion, she set up a video call with Geeta to ask how she might help, and with Geeta's approval, Kristina created a Facebook fundraising campaign to buy Geeta an artificial hand and help pay some of her daughter's school fees. The campaign ended up raising enough money to buy the hand and contribute €200 toward the education of Geeta's daughter. As Kristina's report says, "Geeta then bought the prosthetic hand and has, for the first time since her daughter was born, been able to lift up and hold her daughter with both hands."

Brittney Hughes

Brittney Hughes is a Canadian fashion designer who put her sewing skills to good use early in the COVID-19 pandemic, when masks were in short supply. While confined to her home, she began thinking about all the homeless people in her city, Vancouver, who didn't have access to a mask, and she realized that she could use some of her fabric remnants to sew masks for people living on the street. Acting on this realization, Brittney figured out a way to sew cloth masks at a rate of about 10 masks per hour, which meant that after approximately 20 hours of sewing spread across four days, she had created 200 reusable cloth face masks to distribute during her Day of Compassion. When the day arrived, she and a friend drove around the city distributing free masks, and by the end of the day, they had hand-delivered 200 masks to homeless people in downtown Vancouver. Afterward, Brittney learned that her project had inspired a couple friends to sew masks for people in their own community—a ripple effect that was one of her favorite results from the Day of Compassion.

Roshan Seegolam

Roshan Seegolam is a senior officer at Eastern High Security Prison in Mauritius, where the inmates under his care have committed serious offenses such as murder, assaults, drug dealing, and more. Normally, the prison maintains strict rules and procedures that limit the degree to which inmates can socialize and build friendships. On his Day of Compassion, however, Roshan decided to bring peace, trust, and harmony to a group of 50 prisoners by organizing a day of activities that included volleyball, dominoes, and street football in the prison yard. He also made it a point to learn about the prisoners' family backgrounds, level of education, hobbies, and likes and dislikes. Remarkably, there was not a single conflict or quarrel among the inmates during the Day of Compassion. Reflecting on the difference between his typical way of relating to the inmates and his experience during the Day of Compassion, Roshan's report concludes: "I didn't realize how imprisoned I myself had become as an officer, and how treating inmates with compassion could set me free."

Francheska Marie Valiente Lacuesta

Francheska Lacuesta, a science teacher in the Philippines, held her Day of Compassion on the first day of the semester in mid-2020, when she was teaching 150 senior high school students, many of whom were anxious about the switch to online learning. Rather than focusing only on chemistry, biology, and other science subjects, Francheska put mental health first and began by teaching students stress management and mindfulness techniques to reduce the tension they were experiencing. These self-care techniques included setting up routines, exercising, valuing pastimes, and breathing calmly. Francheska and her students also pledged to support each other in times of stress, both in terms of academics and in personal life. The feedback on her approach was so positive that Francheska taught mindfulness techniques to another 100 students after her Day of Compassion had ended, and her colleagues taught some of the lessons she developed to 400 additional students. In sum, a total of 650 students learned mindfulness and self-care techniques as a result of Francheska's Day of Compassion.

Si Twining

Si Twining is a Digital Engagement Manager who works for the British government, and he used his graphic design expertise in a particularly creative way for the Day of Compassion assignment. After noticing that some of his friends had made social media posts with old black and white photos of deceased family members, he decided to colorize a few of these photos and email them back to his friends as a gift. The idea was to give his friends a perspective that they may not have seen for decades, if ever—a lifelike color version of loved ones whom they had lost long ago. After receiving a positive response, he posted an invitation on Facebook for people to send him black and white photos to colorize, and a number of people took him up on the offer. He then rendered color photos of faces, houses, villages, and family portraits. The reactions people had were powerful. For example, after receiving a colorized image of her grandparents, one friend texted Si to say that she had cried and was "over the moon" with joy. Another person even commented that Si had briefly given him his mother back.

Lara Bewcyk

Lara Bewcyk, a Canadian police dispatcher who lives in an urban area, noticed that the COVID-19 pandemic seemed to be intensifying homelessness in her city. Moved to action, she assembled 40 large "gift bags" to distribute to homeless people on her Day of Compassion, which took place during the winter. Inside these bags, Lara put essentials such as toiletries, soap, socks, gloves, winter hats, snack packs with crackers, bottled water, dried fruit, an orange, chocolate, and so on. She also enclosed a note in each bag that said "You matter." Once all the bags were ready, Lara's father helped her deliver the bags to homeless people, many of whom were astonished and expressed profound gratitude. One young man around Lara's age said that her gift was "the only Christmas present I got this year." Another said, "It's things like this that remind me that there are still good people out there. Thank you!" Based on Lara's positive experience during the Day of Compassion, her parents and siblings are now planning to repeat the project as a family next year.

Najeebullah Khan

In his report on the Day of Compassion, Najeebullah Khan discussed efforts he made to trigger "chain-reaction compassion"—that is, acts of compassion that encourage other people to behave compassionately, in turn leading even more people to behave similarly in ever-expanding circles. One such effort Najeebullah made was to arrange for a local bread shop to hang a "basket of virtue" for customers to fill with bread and other items that people in need could retrieve. Once the chain reaction got going, the basket routinely got filled and emptied several times a day, and other shops began hanging their own baskets. Another chain reaction took place at a local filtration plant, where Najeebullah waited in line to fill large bottles with water for home use. The day was unusually hot, and when Najeebullah reached the tap, he gave his turn to an old man in the line. This act of kindness led others who were young to give up their turn by filling the bottles of elderly people. Recently, Najeebullah told Professor Plous that the basket of virtue still hangs in the same bread shop, where it's now been filled and emptied more than a thousand times in an ongoing chain reaction of compassion.

Beth Shillibeer

Compassion involves a response to suffering, so when Beth Shillibeer pondered how to spend her Day of Compassion, she began by thinking about those who are most despised on earth. As Beth's report explains, "Not many things unite humanity, but feelings of revulsion toward cockroaches are nearly universal... On my Day of Compassion, I spent time learning about cockroaches and trying to see them in a positive light. After all, if this exercise proved successful in helping me feel compassion toward cockroaches, I would presumably be in a better position to feel compassion toward all others who cross my path, both human and nonhuman." After a Day of Compassion that Beth's report describes as "disturbing, funny, and fascinating," she traces a tranformation in her feelings from fear and disgust to respect and even admiration. Her report concludes, "If we can change our beliefs and actions toward a despised creature like the cockroach, just think what we can do with less distant outgroups!"

Adrian Neil C. Holgado

Adrian Holgado, a student at De La Salle University in the Philippines, decided to do two Days of Compassion rather than one, both of which took place during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. During the first Day of Compassion, his focus was on low-income elderly people who were at greatest risk of becoming infected with the virus. To address this problem, he partnered with an anti-hunger nonprofit and launched a one-week online donation drive that secured enough money to buy biscuits, powdered milk, and face masks for 75 elderly residents. During the second Day of Compassion, Adrian and a coworker, who both served as human resource officers for another nonprofit, proposed a month-long program of activities aimed at improving the mental health, well-being, and morale of the nonprofit's members and staff. The proposal was approved, and Adrian oversaw the mental health program. Two years after completing the Social Psychology MOOC hosted by Coursera, Adrian graduated summa cum laude with a degree in psychology.

Aishwarya Madireddi

Aishwarya Madireddi resides in Hyderabad, India, and spent her Day of Compassion cooking meals for people who live with food insecurity. To carry out this project, Aishwarya and her mother shopped for groceries to make home-cooked meals for 30 homeless people. The meals they created were vegan and included rice, lentils, and fresh vegetables—food packed with nutrients essential to good health. They then served the meals with biodegradable plates, bowls, and cutlery made from leaves of the palash tree, a sustainable product famous for its antibacterial and antiseptic properties. The reactions people had to Aishwarya's act of kindness were tremendous, and soon all 30 meals were distributed. As her report put it, the Day of Compassion "showed that in only 24 hours, without any special talent or superpower, I could make a difference in the lives of 30 people. My superpower was simply caring."

Identity Withheld

This class member, whose identity Professor Plous has chosen to keep private, is a Ugandan refugee who had been living on the streets of Durban, South Africa, for a year when he carried out his Day of Compassion. At the time, Black male refugees in Durban faced intense xenophobia, danger, and stereotyping, often being suspected of crimes and seen as stealing jobs from South African citizens. To create goodwill and build trust between refugees and local residents, our class member posted messages on Facebook and pinned notices in public libraries offering free help creating an attractive curriculum vitae (CV). Often, this help was simply to add a color photo to the top of the CV—a professional touch that humanized the CV holder and increased the chances of employment. During his Day of Compassion, he provided CV assistance to more than 50 young job seekers, one of whom later called to thank him after being given a job without an interview, based solely on the quality of her CV. By helping South Africans gain employment, this class member avoided being seen as taking away jobs. On the contrary, people affectionately began calling him "the CV guy," a shift in status that even led a community member to offer him a free place to stay.

Congratulations to all on a job well done!



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