The Free Hugs Campaign is an international kindness initiative, that has spread to over 80 countries around the world, founded on the simple principle of offering a stranger a hug.

The Free Hugs Campaign began on Wednesday June 30th, 2004 in an effort to cheer up one person’s day. Mine.

The Free Hugs Campaign is about many things, like making someone’s day a little brighter, meeting people and showing the world that strangers aren’t so bad after all. It’s also about bringing people together and sharing a happy moment before heading back out into the world feeling a little lighter.

The Free Hugs Campaign is all about people being there for each other.

When you’re feeling sad and alone in the world, it helps to talk to people, to share a laugh with someone, to see someone smile at you, to have somebody wrap their arms around you and reassure you that everything will be alright.

What about those people who don’t have somebody? Whose families live far away? Whose friends just don’t understand?

Once upon a time that was me.

I’d been living in London when my world turned upside down and I’d had to come home. By the time my plane landed back in Sydney, all I had left was a carry on bag full of clothes and a world of troubles. No one to welcome me back, no place to call home. I was a tourist in my hometown.

Standing there in the arrivals terminal, watching other passengers meeting their waiting friends and family, with open arms and smiling faces, hugging and laughing together, I wanted someone out there to be waiting for me. To be happy to see me. To smile at me. To hug me.

So I got some cardboard and a marker and made a sign. I found the busiest pedestrian intersection in the city and held that sign aloft, with the words “Free Hugs” on both sides.

And for 15 minutes, people just stared right through me. The first person who stopped, tapped me on the shoulder and told me how her dog had just died that morning. How that morning had been the one year anniversary of her only daughter dying in a car accident. How what she needed now, when she felt most alone in the world, was a hug. I got down on one knee, we put our arms around each other and when we parted, she was smiling.

Everyone has problems and for sure mine haven’t compared. But to see someone who was once frowning, smile even for a moment, is worth it every time.