Matt Callanan is a true inspiration. He has taken a life scar and made it mean something. Matt was a real pleasure to interview. Take a read and he'll tell you how a random connection with George Clooney and Bill Murray led him on a path of taking his Dad's legacy of kindness and helping the world remember that each of us can do even the smallest acts to change the world @wemakegood happen
Matt was Interviewed by author of the @madebeautifulbyscars project Veronica Farmer
When tough things happen most men go within to deal with it. That can lead to depression or anger when you get lost in that dark man cave trying to work it all out by yourself. I think that is a real problem in our world.
My Dad died too young, he was only 58 years old. There are 5 grandkids he has never met and that’s a real shame. My sister brought her wedding forward when he was sick so he could be there, but Dad missed my wedding and my brothers too, important key moments I wished he had been part of.
When Dad passed away, it was a rough time for me. I had just split up with a girlfriend and another close friend had also succumbed to the same disease. I’d taken life for granted and assumed my girlfriend would always be there, that my friends would always be around for the good times and of course that my beautiful Dad would be in my life for a long time. As a human, you know that death is something that happens to everyone, but it always feels far off in the distance, you don’t expect it when people are so young.
I dove into a pit of anger and sadness, drinking too much to numb the pain. I didn’t want to be around people, I just wanted to hide away. Then one day I met my wife, her warmth got me to open up and heal so much of that suffering.
I remember watching a Brené Brown TEDx talk on vulnerability. Something about that hit home and helped me understand that it’s okay that life doesn’t go to plan, it’s okay to feel rubbish from time to time and it’s important and healthy to open up about it. Opening that can of worms inside was horrible and gut wrenching, but it freed me.
I stopped taking life for granted.
My Dad was a special human being. He was a very popular man in the community and always looking at how he could help people. As kids, he involved us in some of the work he would do, getting donations of food and driving to the local homeless shelter. He had this warmth about him, the sort of guy who could easily talk to a pauper or a king, he gave anyone at any level the respect and care they deserved and just loved them as he saw them. He had a genuine compassion for people.
I married my beautiful wife and we had a little boy Alby. Watching him grow made me wonder what sort of Dad I would be. I knew that I wanted to emulate how my father had been, to leave a legacy for my son, to help others somehow and involve him as my Dad had done with us.
I’m a cameraman and work with film as a trade. One day I found myself in the home of a famous movie star filming a documentary on how getting involved in social causes can inspire young people in America to do more for others. As I watched George Clooney speak, I was blown away by his energy and determinism. This was a guy that didn’t need to help others, but here he was going out of his way to make a difference in the lives of many.
As we were packing up the lights, George asked us if we would mind if he showed an old friend around. We nodded, well of course – no problem. As I lifted my head, I saw my ultimate 80’s hero Bill Murray come into the room. I thought to myself ‘No-one is going to believe who I worked with today!”
After leaving the shoot, we stopped off to buy something to drink and as I thought the day was something out of the ordinary and who knew what could happen next, I grabbed a scratch lottery ticket. The first two numbers were £250,000, the third, fourth and fifth numbers were £20. Inspired by seeing George and Bill and the spirit of my Dad, I just knew I had to do something with that money.
‘The Big Issue’ is a street magazine that homeless people sell on the streets in the UK as a way of making a little money. Around the corner from my home I often saw a homeless Romanian guy called Stefan selling them and whenever I saw him I would buy a magazine and be greeted with a huge universal smile that would make me grin from ear to ear. As I neared home, I saw him, told him to put away his magazines and come with me. We walked to the supermarket and I grabbed a basket and told him to fill it up. As I put essential food, basic things that most of us take for granted into the basket, he kept saying “Enough, enough!” as filled up the basket to the brim.
Coming out of the store, Stefan put the bags down and opened his arms to hug me. He tapped his heart and said “My brother, my brother” as he hugged me and kissed me on the cheek. It was such a touching moment and filled my heart with unbelievable warmth. I knew in that moment that I wanted to do a lot more of this!
I came home and told my wife that I wanted to do a good deeds project, something like my Dad used to do. I said to her that I would like to see if I could do 100 acts of kindness. My wife smiled at me saying “That’s way too easy! I could do that in a week!” I knew she was right – but how many should I do and how? I sat down at my computer and the random meeting with Bill Murray jumped into my mind. I thought of one of his movies -Groundhog Day and put the title into the laptop browser. In that movie where Bill’s character keeps living the same day over and over until he learns how to live less like Scrooge and more caring of others, I found that someone had calculated how many days he had lived in that movie day loop – 12,403. There was my answer, I had a goal, impact 12,000 people with 403 good deeds.
I heard that a food-bank in the next city was about to close. Someone had posted a picture up on Facebook of their shelves with only a few tins left. The downside of community causes on social media is often that people can see something like that and think that a Like or a Share is action, but nothing actually gets done. I knew I wanted to do something that would fill those shelves.
I rounded up a pile of people and thought maybe we could inspire others to give us cans so we could take a carload over. The support started to grow and in the end I had to hire a massive van to cart it all over there. That was when I saw the power of community working together and the project got a name @wemakegoodhappen 403 became my own personal good deeds project
Not long after that, I heard about an old lady in a local rest home who was about to turn 100 years old. She had no family and it was looking likely that her birthday would be just an average day like any other. I decided that we should take a party to her and gathered up singers and dancers, balloons, a cake and a pile of people to come celebrate with her. I rang up the rest home and asked if that would be okay and they said “Sure.” I don’t think they expected what we arrived with! There were 30 of us, we gathered all the residents together and threw her a massive party. At the end of the party, knowing she had no family, we decided to adopt her as the “We Make Good Happen’ Grandma. That would mean that there would always be someone to visit her on mother’s day, take her flowers and be a friend to her.
Around Christmas time, I had the idea of hiding £10 notes around Cardiff in envelopes with a couple of rules and see how it would go. We told people about it on social media and the rules were that you couldn’t spend it on yourself but you had to do something good with it for others. People loved the idea and the story went viral. Here I was this cameraman now suddenly in front of the camera being interviewed about all the good deeds that were happening in the city. I linked some of the envelopes to different charities so people would be able to know what to do with the money. So many amazing stories were coming in. One of the £10 found prompted a young woman to buy a complete stranger a bunch of flowers. She found out that woman was recovering from a heart attack and the flowers meant so much to her.
One of the best stories was a guy called Ben who decided to bring a homeless man into his home and give him some food and a cup of tea. The homeless man told him that being welcomed into someone’s house gave him a new perspective on life. He had given up on people and from that act of kindness, he was inspired to get some help, a job and a home. People followed the #Tenner4Good idea on twitter and began to do the same with their own money and the project has grown.
Not long ago, I was invited to attend a meeting with a group of refugees and had the opportunity to talk to them about their lives and the life scars they had lived. One woman I spoke to told me that she had to sell everything in Syria to raise the money to smuggle her and the children to somewhere safe, they were not able to bring her husband too. Once they survived the journey and arrived in the U.K they were treated like cattle and herded into a city she had never heard of before to live a new challenging life.
I then sat with a five-year old refugee boy. I asked him to imagine his favourite toy and he told me he loved lego and cars. I knew I wanted to do something for both of these people I had spoken to, so I excused myself pretending to go to the toilet, but instead I sprinted down the road to a florist and a toy store. I grabbed the small lego car in the front of the shop, got the shopkeeper to take it out of the packaging and with a bunch of flowers in one hand and the car in the other, I raced back through the street to the meeting. I must have looked like I had nicked them at the speed I was running!
I got back to the meeting before they had noticed I had left and it was amazing to see the faces of the child and the woman as I gave them their gifts.
The next day, the little refugee boy’s words about his love for building lego was still etched in my mind along with the plight of refugees fleeing war. I thought what an amazing idea it would be to have a week of kindness in the city and build a giant house of lego with this refugee child. Where people of all backgrounds and ages could build with him. This would be a symbol of kindness, real welcome and care. As I started to share this idea around, I had so many people donating buckets of lego and they are still coming!
I love to see where my own 403 deeds take me. I know it will lead to some incredible adventures. I have just come back from donating my time and video skills to a project called @TakingPicturesChangingLives with a good friend Adam Dickens. It was pretty eye opening and heart breaking to be filming in the slums of Namuwongo, filming videos for hope. Hope for the children in this community, building toilets, drains, clearing thousands of tons of rubbish and sponsoring 156 children to go to school.
I would love to see We Make Good Happen collectively achieve 1,000,000 good deeds with ambassadors around the world taking the idea wide as it can. It feels good to see people get excited about thinking of others. We all have time and skills that we can use for good and it doesn’t necessarily have to cost money to help someone. You can always find something to do to make someone’s day brighter, whether it’s asking them if they are okay, or helping sweep leaves from an elderly person’s garden. Small acts make a big difference.
There is something very healing about seeing others lift from your actions. Irrespective of what life scars you are going through, taking the time to make someone’s day really does heal your own pain and gives you a sense of purpose. I love this work and I’d love to challenge you to think about what you could do out there to help someone struggling. It’s the ultimate feel-good kick!
To connect with Matt Callanan check out @wemakegoodhappen
madebeautifulbyscars is a human global story series created by Author and Therapist Veronica Farmer, capturing real stories from men and women who have refused to let life scars hold them back from creating an extraordinary life.
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