Global Awareness

How Can We Build Compassionate Communities?

by DVGS Editorial

Directors and community builders from ServiceSpace representing four corners of the world talked with the Developing Virtue Girls School junior high and high school students on September 4, 2018. Audrey Lin, a ServiceSpace leader with an infectious smile, introduced the speakers: Ana Valdes Lim, David Bullón, Giang Đăng, and Joserra González. The experiences they shared have been summarized below.


Ana Valdes Lim
Artistic director, METTA, Philippines

Actor, teacher, author, and director, Ana Valdes Lim grew up in the Philippines, attending an all-girls Catholic school that emphasized traditional values. She graduated from The Juilliard School in New York and founded the Marie Eugenie Theater of the Assumption (METTA) in 2004. She co-wrote and directed the Voice of Hope, which was performed in The Vatican for six thousand people, including the President of Mexico and former President of the Philippines.

Warm and unassuming, Ms. Ana Lim describes how her desire for service led her to join ServiceSpace, help the homeless in the Philippines, and participate in Gandhi 3.0, a global retreat with the mission of inner transformation. She explains how she started her own compassionate communities, or “circles,” by being a teacher, sharing ideas and encouraging others to share. She also discusses her budding interest in Buddhism, and how she incorporated its ideas in a Hamlet play she directed recently. Keeping the famous line – “To be or not to be, that is the question” – in the play, at the end of the performance, she noted, profoundly, “To be or not to be is not the question. To be or not to be is only a thought.

David Bullón
Director of Innovation, MICITT, Costa Rica

“I started small,” David Bullón replies frankly, when asked how he created a mindful community of people in the Costa Rican government, where he works as a director. “I had a team of five people.” He describes his first encounters with meditation and how he felt compelled to share it with the people around him. Since it was unusual in Costa Rica to request for a minute of silence (a meditation practice that begins many ServiceSpace events), he introduced meditation to a few people first and took a slower approach to building the community. “[To build a community], lean slightly out of your comfort zone,” he advises.

Mr. David Bullón works at the Ministry of Science, Technology and Telecommunications of Costa Rica (MICITT). A few weeks ago, he met with the Costa Rican president and ministers and is meeting them again next week. He speaks fondly about his country, which scores 1st out of 140 countries on the Happy Planet Index. “Costa Rica does not have an army,” he notes. The government has also maintained strong measures to protect the environment: at least one-fourth of Costa Rica’s land is protected rainforest, and the country uses almost 100% renewable energy. However, Mr. David Bullón states that there is still much room for improvement. “I wanted to create a space where we could listen to each other,” he says, commenting on the lack of a mindful community at his workplace. He sees both individual and community-based service as valuable. “Sometimes the work we do as individuals… seems disconnected with the world, … but it is the most important,” he concludes, urging the students in the audience to view themselves as individuals who can make a difference.

Giang Đăng
Community organizer, Vietnam

Years of leading community projects in Vietnam has given Giang Đăng as much pain as joy. Her journey from intense giving, to learning to care for herself, introduced the students to some of the struggles one might meet when building a compassionate community. Her story interested many students who wanted advice on maintaining a work-life balance. A community leader who helped construct playgrounds, farms, and gardens, Giang Đăng also worked in Washington D.C. at a multinational aid organization. Later, she founded the NGO (non-governmental organization) Action For the City in Hanoi, Vietnam, with the goal of including her values in her work.

From the way she speaks, one can tell that Ms. Giang Đăng has her whole heart in her service for others. She speaks about the incident that led her on the path of service with conviction. She encountered a poor boy in India, whose dream was simple: to have a pair of shoes to wear. Shocked by the young boy’s lack of basic items and moved by his words, her “attention went out to the world,” and she decided to serve others by building communities.

As she continued to work as a community organizer, however, Ms. Giang Đăng discovered that her heart was not always at peace. “I forgot self-care, was burnt-out, wasn’t happy, and was often troubled,” she confesses. “I even forgot to smile at my colleagues.” She decided to put more care into her health and manage her time better. “I learned to slow down, so I can connect with myself, then others,” she concludes, calling this “a moment of learning”. When asked why she felt confused and troubled while doing great things, Ms. Giang Đăng replies, “Even in serving others, I felt important… I was building up my ego.” She shares the important lesson she learned: “[Service] is all about honoring each living being” and being mutually supportive; one should not act like a doctor, seeing the community as “something to fix.” Always seeking improvement, Ms. Giang Đăng ends, “My next step is to connect with nature.”

Joserra González
Community builder, Spain

“The spirit of generosity really touches me.” Joserra González, the altruistic “everyday hero” from Spain begins, smiling. “It is my life.”

Mr. Joserra González likes to find ordinary ways to build compassionate communities. He initiates simple acts of kindness in the streets of Spain, as well as events like Karma Kitchen, where meals are essentially free, and customers can pay any amount they want to support the meal for the person after them. He describes an event he started in Spain called the Circle of Abundance, where people gather together with one purpose: to give. He had planned to give the donations from the event to a poor gypsy woman in the neighborhood. When she received the gifts, she was so moved by the generosity and compassion of the people that she left the gifts for others in need and baked two big cakes to share with everyone as well.

After hearing this touching anecdote, a student commented that she had never thought inspiring generosity in someone in need could be such an effective way of helping that person. In addition, many students described Mr. Joserra González’s talk as “easy to relate to”; his kind, everyday acts were something all students could do.

A big thank you to Ana Valdes Lim, David Bullón, Giang Đăng, Joserra González, Audrey Lin, and ServiceSpace for sharing with us!