Celebrating random acts of kindness

New CIO Unsung People attracts international attention

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A new CIO on Grounds, Unsung People, promotes and publishes random acts of kindness by strangers. 

Courtesy Shreyas Hariharan

Though the current state of affairs often elicits the shaking of heads and frowns, a new CIO on Grounds has made it its mission to change that. Unsung People, a new non-profit initiative, promotes kindness by collecting stories of random acts of kindness from around the world and sharing them on its website and other forms of social media.

While most CIOs run by University students begin here in Charlottesville, Unsung People has a unique beginning more than 8,500 miles away. Shreyas Hariharan, fourth-year Commerce student and president of Unsung People, said it was an act of kindness that inspired him to start Unsung People.

In his hometown of Bangalore, India, Hariharan said he saw an ambulance unable to move in heavy traffic. While everyone on the street — himself included — was stuck in the traffic, Hariharan said he noticed an auto rickshaw driver who persuaded drivers to move out of the way, allowing the ambulance to pass through more easily.

“It was pretty remarkable how he did it, but after he did it, everyone went about their day, including me,” Hariharan said. “I just felt that something as heroic as that which saved a life sort of just goes unnoticed, and it is very likely that a lot of things go unnoticed.”

After Hariharan discussed this experience with a couple friends from his high school, together they launched Unsung People as a platform of stories about random acts of kindness to promote positivity, express gratitude and increase happiness levels universally.

Upon coming back to the University after the summer, Hariharan co-founded a team on Grounds. Unsung People prides itself in establishing a connection between people of different cultures and backgrounds through a simple concept.

“People see a lot of negative things, either on media or other forms, and think that the world is more dangerous than it is and become fearful of other people,” Hariharan said. “Something that we want to do is reestablish that trust in … random people.”

Unsung People’s international exposure element has attracted a lot of attention from many students, including second-year Engineering student and Turn Up director Parisa Roohafzaii, who is responsible for planning the biweekly events Unsung People has on the Lawn.

“It is really interesting to me because I wanted something different,” Roohafzaii said. “One thing that really drew me in is that this started in another country, and we’re trying to bring it to [abroad].”

Aiming to promote kindness, Unsung People has made its mark at the University by asking students to recall moments of kindness they have experienced, ranging from returning a lost ID card to paying for someone in line for food.

Second-year College student Michael Bateman, who serves as the chief operating officer of the University’s group, said the group shifts focus away from a common “mean world syndrome,” which causes people to view the world as more dangerous than it actually is.

“[Fighting the mean world syndrome is] something that’s really important because the world actually is a much better place than is was 10, 20, 30 years ago,” Bateman said. “That’s what we want to highlight — the common humanity and goodness in the world.”

Touching hearts both here and abroad, the non-profit recently won an award for Social Concern in India from St. Joseph’s College.

“We wanted to have a strong international presence because if you see stories from different places — though there might be differences in what people do and what people appreciate — at the end of the day everyone is universally kind and everyone appreciates people being selfless,” Hariharan said.

Though still a relatively new CIO on Grounds, Unsung People has bases in India, Florida and Virginia. The non-profit looks forward to expanding in areas like Madrid and London and continuing to spread positivity.

“People will open a door for you or someone picks up something you dropped, and we always brush that stuff off our shoulders and don’t take into account how kind that is, because someone doesn’t have to do that for you,” Roohafzaii said. “For me, it’s just noticing those things and making those things a bigger deal because those are the things that make a bigger difference in our lives and make us feel better. These little things bring happiness to people’s lives.”

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