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strengthspotting

The Strengths Project, Kolkata, India – December 2012 Update – Part 2

Posted by: Alex Linley & Avirupa Bhaduri

 

In part 1 of this blog, Avirupa told us about her journey to Baghmundi and some context of the area and the workshops that were being delivered. In this part 2, she shares with us her experiences of strengthspotting and strengths building with the villagers, doing so through the famous Indian folk tale of Panta Buri. Read on to see how she did it…

 

“The next day, the session begins early. The delegates have by now got to know each other and there is a sense of camaraderie. Mine was the 2nd session of the day. I began by introducing me and my strengths. I then asked the other speakers, who are now familiar with strength ideas, having been present in the past two sessions, to introduce themselves and their strengths.

 

Thereafter, I started talking about the benefits of realising strengths in us and others. Silent blank faces stared back at me as usual, but this time I was not disheartened, braced by the achievement of past experience.

 

I decided to try another approach. I talked about our bias with weakness, how that has become the only yard stick for judging improvement. I said “What if we turn the table and start thinking differently? We ordinary people can do wonders by acknowledging the extraordinary in us, our strengths!” I proposed to illustrate my point with the simple folk tale of Panta Buri.

 

In this story an old woman is helped by a motly crew of ordinary sub-humans- viz. a knife, a crocodile, a blob of cowdung, and a “bael” (an indegenous fruit). They come together to outwit and capture a thief who was habituallly stealing the “buri”s (old woman’s) “panta”.

 

I told this age-old tale from the strength perspective, to demonstrate how ordinary beings can become powerful if they utilize their strengths judiciously to the fullest potential, and better still, as a team of complementary partners. This story telling session worked wonders and the group became responsive for the first time, adding anecdotes and versions of the story, all of which had the common theme of realising and managing strengths.

 

Once the ball started rolling, then like all previous sessions, the participants came up with their own strengths stories. A young boy told the story how he had once taken an injured friend to the hospital by cycling fast through the hills. A girl stood up and talked about her ambition to become an athlete, and proudly narrated the story of her persual of dreams and the various medals that she had won.

 

We repeated the workshop from the last sessions of making teams and talking about each other’s strengths. This time, we introduced an element of theatre and gave a practical problem, and asked the delegates to act out a solution based on using the strengths of fellow team members.

 

This worked wonderfully and most of the teams had a fair amount of participation. After each team’s performance, we were asked to rate them. Each performace was followed by fervent and spontaneous discussions. We had a difficult time to conclude the session, and after much deliberation, tea break was announced.

 

While watching lively chats and conversations among the men and women, even during the break, I realized that we have probably made yet another community converts to the strengths mantra!”

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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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Update from The Strengths Project, Kolkata, India – October 2012

Posted by: Avirupa Bhaduri & Alex Linley

 

This month Avirupa provides us with an update on the outcomes from the Sewing Exhibition, as well as sharing her experiences of using strengths and strengthspotting in leadership development training with a group of rural Muslim women in Hasnabad, located 4 hours from Kolkata. This was on behalf of another NGO, partered by Action Aid.

 

On reading Avirupa’s blog I was struck once again by how the issue of gender preconceptions about leadership are prevalent. See below – and also see how Rabindranath Tagore, the poet of Kolkata and the first non-European to win the Nobel Prize in Literature, describes the importance of strengths in one of his songs…

 

“October is the month of festivities for India, especially for Bengal, and more specifically for Kolkata. Durga Puja the greatest hindu religious festival takes place around October. Although the days are calculated by Bengali calendar, most of the times it falls in October. Durga Puja is closely followed by Eid, Lakshmi Puja, Muharram, and finally Kali puja & Diwali. So the fiesta lasts till mid November.

 

This is the time when people try to buy new clothes for children, give gifts to friends & family and spend much of their income for related activities. The main puja is for 6 days, but preparations are a month long, even more.

 

So when we met in the first week of October, it was pretty much decided that we will get to meet again only after Kali puja. However we thought of giving ourselves a little bonus. The women suggested that the remuneration for volunteering in the exhibition will be Rs.50 per day, per person plus conveyance.

 

It seemed only fair enough, so Arpita was awarded with Rs. 150, for being present on all 3 days, and Mousumi and Sharmila Rs. 100 each. This money was deducted from our total sale worth around Rs. 1100. The women vowed to prepare for next year much in advance.

 

Meanwhile unexpectedly I found quite a new opportunity. A friend of mine recommended my name for a project of another NGO partnered by Action Aid. The objective of the programme is to make the marginalized community realise their basic human rights, by capacity building through competent trainers.

 

My session was on Leadership training, and the target audience was a group of muslim women from the suburb. Naturally I was quite excited with the idea. I boarded a local train and reached Hasnabad, a small township, 4 hrs from Kolkata, at noon.

 

I met with about 25 women, who had come from villages near Hasnabad. They were very different from the women of Shiriti group. The first visible difference was that all of them were veiled, as is common for rural muslim women. For some, coming to Hasnabad was the biggest step they have taken outside their village, without being accompanied by men.

 

I began with an ice breaker, by asking them to think of a leader, and then announced that by magic I knew that most of them have thought about someone who 1. Is a man 2. lives in a big city, far away and 3. that he is most likely to be a political leader.

 

Then I subverted their preconceived notion of leadership by giving the example of their community leader, Afsa, a girl in her mid-twenties, herself a co-worker of the NGO and who is from the same village as them, and one who has been instrumental in bringing them to the workshop.

 

The earlier session was a lecture on the relationship of power and marginalisation, so I referred to that and then started talking about strengths. Incidentally strength and power have similar words in Bengali, shakti, khomota. The idea was to make them realise their own strengths and use them to their benefit, to change power equation.

 

The task was harder than I imagined. I started with the strengths story of Ashok Shah (from The Strengths Book), with a slight twist. I made Shah a factory worker, who lost his job, to make them relate to him. They listened with rapt attention and reacted positively to the perceived happy ending.

 

Then I started a strengths spotting exercise. Here again the biggest hurdle was to make them speak about their own strengths. I think the phenomenon may be cultural, because people, (the more marginalized, the worse), often find the idea of talking about one’s own strengths contradicting with ideals of humility.

 

It takes a lot of coaxing to get it out from them, as a matter of fact I had to explain as many as 10 strengths from the CAPP inventory, and talk at length about all of my own strengths before I could build enough confidence in them to spot even one in themselves.

 

Also I emphasised the fact that strength is inherent in all of us, that we are all born with one or other strength/s. Then I tried to shift the focus from self to others. This worked much better, women giggled and started to talk about the strengths of their friends, who in turn giggled even more and complimented back by strengths spotting for the appreciators.

 

One woman said she has strength of competitiveness, and can make 100 bidis (small local cheap cigars) in 15 minutes, more than anyone in her neighbourhood. She has even given a demonstration in front of Govt. Officials in the local municipal township office, in order to obtain a Govt. Aid for health insurance.

 

A woman said that to be present in this training workshop away from home without men is a proof of her strength of adventure. A group of women pointed out to an elderly woman, and said she has wonderful strength of counselling, and is very compassionate.

 

Another smart widow stood up and said that she is full of drive, as a proof she cited the example that she always attends social welfare workshops and conference, and once have even travelled to Siliguri (a town in north Bengal, which is about 20 hours journey by train from Hasnabad).

 

We then talked about collective strength and how powerful tool it can be, and roughly introduced the idea of the Realise2 quadrant model, to describe how it can be used to the fullest advantage.

 

The session ended in song of Rabindranath Tagore mukto karo bhoy, apona majhe shakti dhoro, nijere koro joy” (break free from the shackles of fear, realise your own strength to be a winner) wherein some of the women joined me.

 

I ended the session by asking them to make a promise, to be alert about their own strengths, look out for strengths in others, and to make strengths part of their vocabulary.

 

The group looked visibly happy and hopeful and cheered me in chorus to assure me that they will keep their promise.”

 

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