Skills and knowledge can be taught. Attitude comes from within. But it can change.
“Going to India will be a life-changing experience”, numerous people told me when they found out. This was in 2004. I had the opportunity to live and work in one of India’s busiest cities, Chennai.
I had no preconceptions. I didn’t know what to expect. I bought a copy of the Lonely Planet Guide to Southern India and loads of travel goods that proved unnecessary.
Part of my job was to work as a consultant to a dozen managers within The Spastics Society of Tamilnadu (SPASTN), a long-established title for an organisation devoted to all disabilities linked to Cerebral Palsy. “They need to improve their Marketing”, I was told. Ok… says I.
My research started immediately, with a total immersion into the culture, the people, the infrastructure… and the noise…
Chennai is loud. All day. All night. Loud.
Chennai has odours. Pleasant and downright noxious.
Chennai is full.
Of people, animals (cows having right of way), buses, motor-cycles.
Even motor-cycles are full, often carrying families of four or more.
SPASTN are champions at using low-cost technology: purpose built chairs for disabled kids made from bricks and mortar, chairs and crutches of papier-mache (strong enough to support my weight).
Where we would order things from a glossy catalogue, they make things from available resources.
The job always gets done. They are skilled multi-taskers. Nobody clock-watches. If somebody leaves early, people make no comments, always assuming the best.
And boy, does the job get done! Having had one meeting with a group and agreed actions, everything had been completed by the next day’s meeting. Autonomy and empowerment reigned supreme. I never saw anyone complaining or moaning about how they would get a task done, they just did it.
The teamwork I witnessed was superb with nobody too proud to undertake simple or menial tasks, as long as it moved their project forwards.
The people with whom I worked also had an unbounded trust in all that I had to say and offer in the form of solutions. This was both flattering and scary – I wanted to live up to their expectations and also make sure that my solutions would work.
So was my visit to India a life-changing experience?
India has changed my attitude to achieving goals.
If you want something, there are ways to get it. It may not be a conventional route but does that matter?
I find myself more open to different tasks, keen to apply my experience and abilities in different situations.
The trust in me that was displayed by my Indian colleagues has been inspirational.
My confidence has been strengthened and I am more self-reliant.
I have gained a wider perspective of life both at home and at work.
I saw people able to get things done, despite all obstacles in their way, without complaint.
I saw people making something out of nothing.
I saw people who took nothing for granted.
I saw people coping in situations the average westerner would find far too stressful or distracting.
These things I saw personally. The world saw the same qualities displayed by these people in the aftermath of Boxing Day 2004.
If you’ve read this far, please leave a comment. This will inspire me to write more about my experiences in Chennai. Chris
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