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Shiriti Women’s Sewing Co-operative

Overcoming Challenges, Maximising Unrealised Strengths

Posted by: Avirupa Bhaduri & Alex Linley

 

This month Avirupa shares some of her personal insights about how she has been using her own strengths and strengthspotting skills to help her through the challenging time of moving house and getting everything organised. Everything worked out well in the end when she looked to maximise her unrealised strengths and draw on the strengths of the Shiriti Women’s Sewing Co-operative to help her…

 

“February started with an exceptionally hectic schedule, personally. I have recently shifted home and there are a million things that needed attention and tons of new things that needed to be adjusted to. This proved to be a major stressor, and was seriously affecting my relations with my family. So I decided to sit down and try to apply Realise2 to see if I can turn this into a positive experience.

 

I know I like adventure, I am creative, I have empathic connection. My weakness is order, lack of planfulness, being low on detail. Next, instead of learned behaviour I tried to focus on my unrealised strengths in this context. I asked my daughter what she misses most about me these days.

 

Back came the reply “You always smiled hugged and kissed me every time after you scolded me for my mistakes, and you soon forgot all about it, when anything went wrong! Now you are always angry and complaining.” Bounceback was instantly on my mind. I hugged and kissed her for that!

 

I asked my husband next. He surprised me by saying I am less thankful and optimistic these days, which is unusual of me. He also said something interesting, he said “You know you are creative but do you know that you are a great manager, you know how to get things done by people and you know exactly who is best for what.” Drive and connector that’s me!!! It brought a smile to my face.

 

Armed with this illumination, I took it on me to start small to improve my life for myself and my family. I had a long conversation with my husband about the good things of this decision, about sharing chores and making work done systematically. He is a time optimiser and super-great in order, so he agreed to complement me in this regard. My optimism was once more restored.

 

I had a number of pending odd jobs, that was weighing down on me, one of which was making curtains for our new home. Suddenly I thought why not give it to Mousumi & Sharmila, instead of a tailor shop. It will be a win-win situation for both of us!

 

Next week at Shiriti I came with my bundle of fabric, and my friends happily lapped up the opportunity. We had a hearty chatter about my new home, their cheerful curiosity got transmitted to me, and soon I found myself talking happily about my plans for the time ahead. The week after, my curtains were ready, on time and looking lovely.

 

I paid them their wages after much argument on the due amount. They charged ridiculously low. I used my “strict teacher” voice to persuade them to take what is rightful and fair. As I walked back home with my curtain packet in hand, my heart was full of content and hope for the days to come, and I was thankful for the knowledge of strengths which had helped me see this.”

 

 

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The Strengths Project, Kolkata, India – December 2012 Update – Part 1

Posted by: Alex Linley & Avirupa Bhaduri

 

In the December report from Shiriti slum in Kolkata, India (which we will post in two parts – this is Part 1), Avirupa describes Christmas in Kolkata, and sets the scene for another strengths-based community development workshop that she developed in Baghmundi, a town in Purulia, one of the poorest districts of West Bengal. As Avirupa reports:

 

“December, the last month of the year, and a month of festivities. Although Christmas is essentially a Christian religious ceremony, we in India have somehow internalized it, in true spirit of our fabled “synthetic culture”. To most Indians, especially for Bengalis, it is a holiday which has curiuosly become associated with cake eating. Winter in the subcontinent is fairly warm, the average temperature lies between 13 to 15 degrees.

 

When I went to Shiriti on 6th December I met only Sharmila, the mothers were busy preparing their children for terminal exam. We spoke for a while and I told Sharmila that I’ll take the last week off for annual holiday. She was happy for me and asked me to call her before coming next week, so that she will inform the others about the time.

 

It so happened that I got invited for taking another leadership workshop by the same NGO, apparently propelled by the success of the previous ones. I was very happy to be part of yet another enriching experience, so readily agreed. But this time the workshop was to be held at Baghmundi, a remote village at the heart of Purulia district in West Bengal. The workshop schedule is for two days and we have to travel by train for a night. I had to therefore cancel the next week’s meeting at Shiriti.

 

So, on 12th December I boarded the train from Howrah station along with representatives of the NGO. Next day early morning we reached Borabhum, the nearest railway station to Baghmundi. A jeep was waiting for us at the station, and we started our onward journey. The road from the station was suprisingly great, largely devoid of potholes and bumpy ride, which is common in almost all roads including the highways of West Bengal.

 

On hearing me complement, the local representative proudly announced that this road was in fact built by a Japanese construction company, thus the quality assurance. So after about half an hour, we reached the main market area of Baghmundi, from there we took a left turn and as expected the road became non-existent. We continued with our journey through what seemed like village courtyards, the jeep manouvering with supernatural dextrousness amidst mud, washclothes, children playing, and mounds of paddy kept for drying in the sun.

 

After this adventure we arrived at a big iron gate. A perfectly urban looking three storied pucca (made of brick) with a lovely garden front. This was such an exceptional sight that the city girl in me almost gasped in wonder. I eventually learned that this building was built and manintained by the Lions Club and acts as a social community centre and a place for convention of various social service activities, both government and non-government organizations. We weare served a cup of steaming hot tea while we waited for the delegates to arrive from nearby villages across the hills, as well as from the adjoining district of Bankura.

 

A little backstory of the area would be helpful here. Purulia and Bankura are two of the poorest districts of West Bengal. The soil in these regions is not as fertile as the rest of the state, the rivers are seasonal, i.e., they flood in monsoon and dry up in summer and winter. The majority of the population is composed of tribal peoples, one of the most marginalized communities in our country. Their language is Santhali and even when they speak Bengali, their dialect is quite unique.

 

In recent times these areas have been riddled by Maoist insurgencies, which allegedly is a fallout of the lack of development initiative taken by the government. As a result, there is a heavy police and military presence in the area, and the common people are the worst sufferers.

 

In this context, we were poised to hold the workshop to empower the villagers with positive life skills. The first day’s workshop started late as the delegates, many of whom cycled miles crossing the hills to the venue, arrived close to noon. On humanitarian grounds, after a brief introductory session, the lunch break was announced. Post-lunch, one of the key speakers takes an exhaustive session on “awareness of laws and  rights”. It’s winter, so it gets dark early and there’s not enough provision of electricity, thus we concluded the day.”

 

On day two, we’ll learn more about Avirupa’s strengths session with the delegates. This follows in Part 2 of this blog…

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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.”

 

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