Strength Spotting with Tribal People in West Bengal
Posted by: Alex Linley & Avirupa Bhaduri
In this latest despatch to cover her work on realising strengths with the people of West Bengal, Avirupa shares with us the experience of Sunita, who participated in a strengths workshop in Ayodhya hills, in West Bengal, and was able to transform her perception of her life and the good things that she had in it.
However, the month did not start so well for Avirupa, as we read below…
“While March ended is a happy note for me, April turned out to be ‘the cruelest month’, without a trace of poetry! It started with me going down with viral fever right after returning from Bankura, followed by a series of such cases in my family. It is quite a common phenomenon during season change, but a pain nonetheless. So most of the month was spent on visits to the doctor and pharmacy.
By the time everyone was fit to join school/office/college etc., I had my workshop scheduled in Purulia. I welcomed the opportunity to get out of the city to the hills. The weather is usually unbearably hot in summer, so I was prepared to face the heat!! But a mild breezy night greeted me as our train reached Purulia station at 11 p.m. We reached the guest house, our halt for the night and venue for the next day post midnight.
This time the workshops were arranged in the lap of the hills. The hills have special names for the local tribals, for whom they are considered deities. We were in Ayodhya hills, which is one of the many small hills that are part of Chhotanagpur plateau of West Bengal.
The soil here is arid, red in colour. Hardly any food crops grow here, but the region is rich in minerals. Most of the rain-fed rivers dry out during summer and winter. The majority of the population are tribals.
The delegates start coming from early morning. Our first session started at 10 a.m. Like Bankura, here also the focus was awareness of rights. My session was post lunch. This time I repeated the Bankura formula, and identified the pilot group in the beginning. Unfortunately there were few past delegates.
So, I presented them with the idea of strength and got our colleagues to talk about their own strength. The project leader is an avid climber. He talked wonderfully about his passion for climbing and how that is linked to his strength of not only as adventure and competitive but also resilience and creativity.
We had many meaningful conversations on strengths earlier and I was glad to see another instance of a person warming up to the idea of strengths. On that note I threw the session open for audience participation on a strength spotting excercise. I had some surprising answers.
A man said “I like to grow flowers. God knows how difficult it is in this soil, but I love watching the first bud and my heart swells with emotion when I see the bloom. I have always been fascinated by the riots of colours of palash shimul in spring.”
I didn’t know where to categorize this genuine appreciation and love for beauty of nature, but I thanked him for sharing such a lovely original strength.Then like before I asked them to form teams. Then I introduced them the “strengths bank” game.
The delegates participation was great. All the teams could talk about the strengths of their members with varying degree of success. However, I found one woman Sunita Mandi very interesting, I remembered her from our last workshop. She was the one who had come despite having a minor accident while on the way to the workshop. She seemed much less shy this time and was leading her team for strengths bank.
After the session I had a one to one conversation with her. She was unexpectedly reticent in the begining. I had to put in a lot of effort before she started to open up. At first she was only talking about the troubles of her life. She is 23, been married for 8 years but childless. So she is tortured at home by her in-laws who call her infertile, and have even hit her occasionally. She cooks for all 10 members of her family and also does most of the household chores.
Then I probe about the good things of her life. At first she was hesitant to find any. Then with positive persuasion she started to talk about how her husband loves her, and he has been a pillar of support to her. He has even suggested to live separately away from his family (which is a huge issue among families).
She then said that she has finally found her strength and worth in helping others, being associated with the Action Aid project. She became visibly happy, smiled and her pace of speaking increased, she became excited to talk about how she never realised that helping others was her calling, and how she forgets her depression of childlessness through the good work.
I am once again convinced about the display of the power of strength talk and how it enlivens postive spirit. At the end of the conversation Sunita invited me to her home in the hamlet of “Bandhughuti” which was about 3 kilometers from the venue, near the water dam.
On the way back to the station, I visited her home, met her husband and was treated with yummy juicy tangy sweet piyal fruit, which grows wild locally. I tasted it for the first time and loved it. I promised her to be back again soon.”