Update from The Strengths Project, Kolkata, India – November 2012
Posted by: Avirupa Bhaduri & Alex Linley
For the last three years Capp has sponsored strengths-based community building in the Shiriti slum in Kolkata, India, through our charitable activity, The Strengths Project.
Our Strengths Consultant who leads this work, Avirupa Bhaduri, this month brings us her experiences of strengthspotting with a range of disadvantaged people in Kolkata. These include the women of the Shiriti Women’s Sewing Co-operative, and a diverse group from the squatter colony beside the railway tracks in Park Circus Station, Kolkata.
Avirupa’s blog powerfully demonstrates how strengths can be identified in all of us, whatever our circumstances. She also shows how these strengths can in turn help us to ovecome difficulties and work towards what we want to achieve in life. This is the purpose of The Strengths Project.
When you read the stories from the women of Shiriti and the squatter colony of Park Circus Station, below, you will see why Capp is so proud to support this work of developing strengths in underprivileged communities.
As Avirupa reports:
“November is the month that marks the last of the religious festivals in Kolkata. In the first week we met at Shiriti, but the turn out was poor, with only Sharmila giving me company, as the other women were busy with preparation of Lakshmi Puja. We decided to drop the meeting for the next week as it was the week of Kali Puja, bhai pho(n)ta.
When we met the week after, I talked about my Hasnabad experience with Mousumi & Sharmila. They were very interested about the session. Sharmila, the ever curious, had a lot of queries; What did I perceive about the session’s success, how different were they from their group, whether they responded well, how about their problems? Were they any similar to Shiriti?
Mousumi asked whether I have talked about the Shiriti group to the women of Hasnabad. I had to admit that I didn’t, I should have. Then the three of us generally talked about our lives, our role as women of the house, the differences and similarity of our experience as women, and during the course of conversation we realised that as women we are less encouraged to appreciate our own strengths.
That got me thinking and I asked them to think of certain core strengths that are specific to women as caregivers. Immediately Resilience, Compassion etc. came to the forefront, plus there was one more strength that they both tried to explain, which is unique to women, it is the art of “shongshar kora” (managing household) Which, I considered, comes through a combination of strengths like Judgement (satisfying the varied needs of every member of the household by organizing the right thing at the right time), Order (keeping every thing in order in the house), Relationship Deepener and Unconditionality.
Mousumi pointed out that there’s one more special strength, an ability that a poor housewife has, to make do with minimum resource to maximize satisfaction of all. However, it’s debatable about the extent to which this is learned behaviour or strength, but that was too complicated, so we parted with a smile, saying that as women we are the pillar of strength for our families.
The next two weeks were Jagadhatri Puja and Muharram, so by mutual consent we thought it’s practical to meet in the month of December.
Meanwhile due to the success of the 1st session, I was asked to take 3 more Leadership Training workshop with diverse groups of marginalized community in the months of November and December.
The first one was with a squatter colony beside railway tracks in Park Circus Station, Kolkata. It was a mixed group, comprising of elderly men, women and young people. Their socio-economic status was also mixed, some were rag pickers, some worked as domestic help, some as “ayaah” at local health clinics, some young people were studying in local free high schools, some of the men were van or rickshaw pullers, and there was one man who is a veteran social worker. In terms of language spoken they were also varied, a majority spoke hindi, so I conducted my session in a mix of hindi and bangla.
In the previous session they talked about their problems and vented their frustration against Govt. and social agencies, exploitation by powerful people, people in power. The mood was thus very negative and tense.
So, this time I chose to begin with a hopeful song, Hum Honge kamiyab (hindi version of We shall overcome), which found a lot of takers. Then I asked if they really believe that power or khomota lies externally, in the hands of “others”. They answered “yes” in unison. Then I asked them to look within, and try to see if there are any “khomota” present in themselves.
As expected the response was silence and hushed murmer, then I gradually introduced the subject of strengths and talked about how inevitably we are born with one or other, and that it’s a gift, a tool, even a weapon with which they can better their struggle to fight for their rights.
I talked about my strengths of Empathic Connection, Rapport Builder and Narrator and how these strengths have come into play when I have designed this workshop to empower them to realize their own strengths. I asked a colleague from the NGO (who was present in the earlier session and knew about strengths and their use) to talk about his strengths and how that has helped him to achieve his goals in life.
Then I asked the participants to think about at least one strength that they possess. I added that in order to do so they need to use strengthspotting tips,(from Alex’s top 10 strengthspotting tips) like “be authentic, think of your childhood memories, the things you always loved doing as a child, and the things that you are best at, the things you do naturally”.
The first responses came from young people, a boy spoke first and said he is very good at communication and can make friends easily (Rapport Builder). Another boy said he likes to make people smile, he is good at cracking jokes, and the group laughed and agreed (Humour).
A girl said she likes to take responsibility and has always been the one in her family who has been responsible (Personal Responsibility). A woman said she never loses hope even in spite of abject poverty and believes in the benevolent power of God and believes that all wrongs will be righted one day (Optimism).
With that hopeful note I now asked the group to sit together in three smaller sub-groups, and interact with each other, and find out one strength of their group members, and the group which will have the most members talking about each other’s strengths will be the winner. After 20 mins of discussion we held a demonstration where each group made a smallish performance of talking about each others strengths.
In most groups there were 3 to 4 people who were most vocal, but the opportunity to come up in front of an audience to talk about what they like doing sparked a lot of positive energy in the group. I was happy to see smiles, excited chatter and shining eyes replacing the anger, frowns, disappointment and boredom from before.
Time was up, so I decided to conclude the session by talking about my observation and reiterated once again that the power of strengths is such that it can bring in positive force within us and if we can utilize our strength to the fullest potential and wisely and better still complement with the strengths of others, it can help in chalking out a road map to fight for our rights.”