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Bringing person-centred practice to India

Back in April this year Dimensions, Helen Sanderson Associates (HSA) and the Institute of Person Centred Practices in India (IPCAI) pooled resources to introduce and promote person-centred practices in Kerala, with a view to expand this over the next five years into other districts of India.

Person-centred approaches are well established in the UK and are the backbone of the support Dimensions provides. But, in many countries, support remains rooted in standardised approaches that do not focus on the individual.

Right now, five members of staff from Dimensions are in Kerela to share skills around person-centred practices and attend a conference on the subject. We’ll be sharing daily updates on this incredible trip below.

George’s blog

My wonderful gift from Sachin (far left)
George blogs about her gift from her exchange partner Sachin

Assistant Locality Manager, George Sinclair, has written a fantastic blog on what she gained from the week over in India – a trip she describes as “the trip of a lifetime”!

Day 6 – The person-centred conference

Me, the team and our colleagues in India
Me, the team and our colleagues in India

On our final day we attended a conference of which IPCAI had invited us to. It was to celebrate success and share experience and knowledge.

I have to say that, for me, the conference was the highlight of the week. We gained a proper insight into what IPCAI are trying to achieve, which is to educate their members on how to improve other people’s lives and how to do it.

Paul and Sonya and I ran a workshop on person-centred reviews to a large audience and we heard some inspirational stories on how others had managed to help achieve something great through being person-centred.

After experiencing this, my head was spinning with questions…do we use person-centred thinking tools because we have to, or do we use them because we genuinely feel we want to make a difference?

Do we include the people we support’s family as much as we should? Do we show appreciation towards the people we support’s gifts and talents as much as we should?

Do we appreciate our staff team’s hard work as much as we should? It seems appreciation and involvement are a running theme here. They’re the main things I took away from this experience and something I plan on actioning.

During the conference I finally met my India buddy, Sachin! Sachin and I had been partnered as part of the buddy programme and after only emailing, texting and skyping for what felt like a lifetime, I finally got to him in person.

Sachin presented me with a gift, a beautiful caricature picture of myself in a sari with an elephant in the background (I remember telling Sachin that elephants were my favourite animal some time ago).

I was almost reduced to tears just by the thoughtfulness, kindness and generosity shown by this gesture and that alone sums up just how amazing the people we met were.

– George Sinclair

Day 5 – What a trip!

Mark giving a talk
Mark giving a talk

On Tuesday we visited a school which was great – they made us feel very welcome. We all went to a classroom and talked to the pupils and they asked us some questions. I gave a talk which was well received among the students.

On Wednesday we visited St Joseph’s college in Kerala and were made very welcome again. We talked about Dimensions and our roles and they asked us some very good questions and presented us with a scarf each. We even made it into the local press!

We started Friday morning with yoga at 7am. I enjoyed it very much, it was very relaxing!

We then visited a school for people with learning disabilities and got a royal welcoming again. We spoke about how this school could be transformed by using person-centred approaches.

The whole visit has been such an experience for me. Some things have brought up the past, particularly the residential schools I attended when I was young. I thought about my life then and compared it some of the children in India. It was emotional for me.

The days have been long but the food has been good and the people have been great wherever we have been.

– Mark Brookes

Day 4 – All things family

Meeting the local community

What’s struck me most since being here in Kerala is the family values and the strength of community. Whenever we meet anyone we’ve been asked about our family. “Tell me about your family” they say and that’s how the conversation begins.

In each school and college we’ve visited we’ve asked the students, “what do you love most about living in Kerala?” Each time we’ve been told it’s their family and their community they value most.

This has been so evident in the homes we’ve been invited into. We’ve been introduced in turn to family members, often living under the same roof or next door.

Neighbours and friends have also been invited in to meet us and have invited us to visit their home.

While this may be the novelty of the strange foreigners and the curiosity that evokes, my sense is that this would be a common occurrence for any visitor.

The students also talked about the respect they have for their elders too and it’s common to see school children or teenagers walking hand in hand with an elderly grandparent, chatting and smiling.

It’s not just a sense of duty but a genuine love and respect for each other that shines through.

We’ve heard some comments that when there is a child with a disability in the family, the family and the community support them at home.

Only when they can no longer cope, do they get sent to ‘institutions’. These can be residential centres, a far cry from what we are used to in the UK but families stay in touch (unlike the long stay hospitals of the past) and children go home at the weekends and holidays.

The question that families would be prevented or deterred from staying involved doesn’t enter their heads.

However, there is also a big focus on academic achievement here and education is greatly valued too.

Children falling behind or unable to learn because of a possible, undiagnosed, hidden disability such as autism or less obvious learning disability may not gain the same empathy or understanding.

In a country where person-centred practice is very new and the medical model of disability very strong I’m hoping we can encourage people to see that valuing each person’s individual gifts and talents is the way forward.

I’m looking forward to exploring more about this at our conference on Saturday.

– Gail Hanrahan

Day 3 – Taking each day at a time

Some of the children at the college
Two pupils at the college

We visited two colleges today – the children are fascinated by our presence! We were asked to stand up in front of the class and talk to them about our country and work (gulp) and exchange differences about our countries.

The children here have so much energy – they have shown much interest in person-centred thinking.

It is very surreal here in India: my hope is that we can make a huge difference over the years to come. But it is also true that we can learn much from them, too.

What will tomorrow bring… who knows?

– Sonya Foster

Day 2 – Sharing knowledge

Paul Pargeter
Paul Pargeter shares his knowledge in a college in India

Today, we managed to successfully organise an international webinar which featured partners from IPCAI and HSA foundation. It was a great success, and the sharing of knowledge was met with much excitement both in India and oversees.

We explored the idea that person-centred thinking is an approach for everyone, not just for people with learning disabilities. We are learning, together with our Indian colleagues, that a human approach is about core respect for all.

We are also learning about the importance of family. There are some very interesting cultural similarities and differences, but family is central to a persons life and is firmly bound up in what being person-centred means.

We are working hard delivering talks to schools and colleges, enjoying meeting new people and the very warm hospitality they bring.

Day 1 – How to welcome, value and include

Mark Brookes lights the flame to start the event

There are three things that will particularly stand out when we look back on our first day in India.

Our first official event was a whirlwind of activity and learning. We visited a cultural event focusing on the ‘intervention against drug abuse among children’ organised by the department of social work.

The Indian people made us feel extremely welcome. There were cheers, invitations to make speeches, and front seats to the show which was made up of dance and song. It was brilliantly written and performed to show the paths that can lead toward drug abuse.

The most powerful gesture was when our Campaign Advisor, Mark Brookes was invited on stage to take a seat next to the other VIPs. He also personally ignited the flame that signalled the start of the event.

We must remember this hospitality when developing partnership of our own. We have been welcomed but also humbled.

Tomorrow: college visits, a teenager programme, and an international online meeting celebrating the nature of our partnerships in India. We can’t wait.