As I write this post, we are in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic and it hasn’t been an easy period for many of us. Around the world, many people have lost dear ones and many others their source of income. There has been a lot of fear, uncertainty and isolation. On the other hand, it has been a time of positive change as well, people have turned to kindness and solidarity in the middle of the circumstance.
This situation gave me the perfect opportunity to do something I wanted to do for a while: connect with the people in my street. Today, I am sharing the experience and some thoughts about it, hoping I can inspire some of you to do the same.
In Venezuela, where I originally come from, I would say it is quite common for people to get to know their neighbours, it is part of the culture. I grew up in a street where we knew our neighbours, we were not necessarily the best friends (although some families were close) but we supported each other in little different ways.
I remember one time, the thermostat of our electric hot water system stopped working and it seems the unit was going to explode. It was quite scary, my mum and I ran away from the house and my father didn’t know what to do, so my neighbours came to the rescue. One of them was a handyman, and together they quickly brought the situation under control. This was quite dramatic example, but there were so many other times when they assisted my family or vise versa.
When I moved to Australia, we lived in different places through the years, and in a couple of those houses, we met the next door neighbours, but the interaction was minimal. Then when I moved to this house I live now, because it is a complex of 4 houses, I had the opportunity to meet the other three families and interact a bit more with them, specially the family living across my house.
That has been nice, however, there are so many families living in my street. I thought it would be good to know some people, we live just meters away from each other and there could be so many ways we can interact and help each other out.
When the COVID-19 crisis hit us, I started thinking that perhaps in my own street there could be seniors needing a hand, people isolated or struggling in other ways. That thought alone made me try to do something about it.
Given the social distancing issue, it took me a while to decide how to do it, first thing that came to mind was to use Facebook Groups, but I knew some people don’t use social media or even Internet. However, pondering the pros and cons, I decided to give it a go as it was the easiest way to connect under those circumstances.
So these were the simple steps I followed:
- I created a private closed Facebook Group with the name of the street. It is very simple process to do, it took me max 20 minutes to set it up. I added one question: “How did you know about the group?” and I asked people to reply “Letter”, so I didn’t get random people requesting access.
- I wrote a letter saying hello, explaining about the group and the purpose of it. Even when it was a very simple letter, it took me a while to have it ready; I read it several times, I showed it to my husband, I changed it several times (yep, the perfectionist side of me!) until I finally had enough! – if you are interested, I have created a template based on my letter which you can download here and adjust.
- Using Google Maps, I counted the number of houses/units in the street and printed a total of 45 letters. That was really surprising to me, I didn’t expect there were that many families.
- I went for a walk and delivered the letters. It was kind of fun looking at the variety of mailboxes and houses. We tend to walk pass and don’t pay much attention to these things.
I must admit that even when this was a simple thing to do, my mind tried to get me out of it many times sending me all sort of negative/fearful thoughts: people are not going to be interested, don’t bother you are wasting your time, some might be upset, what people are going to think about you? etc. Why? that’s what our minds do to protect us, but of course I didn’t pay attention.
The same day I delivered the letters, two people came and knocked on my door. One of them was a senior who came all the way from the other end of the street in his mobility scooter to introduce himself and thank me for the letter. He told me he didn’t use Internet, but he left his details and said he was interested. I also gave him my details and offered him a hand if he needed any.
Then my next door neighbour knocked the door saying he couldn’t find the group. About the same time, I also got an email from a another person saying the same thing. It turned out the group was hidden, I forgot to change it to visible!
After I fixed that, then people started to join the Facebook group over the course of maybe 2 weeks. I had added a message welcoming people to the group and inviting them to say hello and introduce themselves. Most people did that, and it was quite nice to get to know them (virtually).
Of course not everyone was interested in joining the group/contact me, and I knew that would be the case, but so far there are a total of 19 people in the group plus 2 neighbours that are not on Internet. That’s more than I ever expected, so it’s been a good result as far as I am concerned. So far, it seems no one has requested any help, but I am glad the option is there in case anyone needs it.
In less than a month through the group:
- Neighbours have discussed issues like the lack of a speed limit. Someone was going to send an email to the council.
- One neighbour gave away some seedlings.
- One neighbour organised a box with jigsaw puzzles and books and put it next to her front door to lend them to us. I took her offer and with my husband completed a puzzle (I hadn’t done one since I was a kid!!!)
- I offered sourdough starter and two neighbours experimented baking different sourdough breads and shared pictures.
I don’t know what the future holds for the group. Many agreed it would be nice in the future to meet in person at the local park, so that’s the plan. We’ll see what happens, I am just glad that I decided to take the chance and do it.
“Individually, we are one drop. Together, we are an ocean” – Ryunosuke Satoro
Community as part of sustainability
Maybe some of you are thinking what getting to know your neighbours has to do with the environment or sustainability.
There are many instances when getting to know our neighbours can be beneficial for the environment:
- Instead of buying new stuff we don’t use on regular basis like tools, kitchen gadgets etc we can borrow them from neighbours.
- We can get to know people interested in positive environmental activities like learning to grow food, composting, reducing waste etc.
- We can get to know local businesses and support them.
- We can all learn together.
I highly recommend this TED, I love it, it is fun to watch and it will give a great example about how local communities can get together and create a healthier environment for everyone:
I believe we live in societies that are usually quite individualised. We go alone quite often, but wouldn’t it be great if we go together?
That’s it for today. I hope you have enjoyed this post. If you got inspired to do something similar, please let me know how you go, send me an email or leave me a comment, I’ll be excited to hear about your story 🙂
Thanks for reading,