Looking at Possibilities

While doing my MOOC with Coursera on Inspiring Leadership through Emotional Intelligence*, Prof. Richard Boyatzis, the Course Instructor shared with us a host of videos that were inspiring. Of it all, the one that captured my attention and being was that of a YouTube video on Under Four Trees – a school that was started by Mrs. Zikhali for a small community in Nkomo Primary School in rural KwaZulu Natal, Mnqobokazi, South Africa. The amazing project is sure to leave you inspired. Do watch this link below – and if you are in the field of education, this is a must watch.

To me it focused on two things:
The power education can wield even making the poorest of the poor, rich.
Passion for what one does can convert all of the problems into possibilities.

Two wonderful lessons. It is not that these are eureka moments – it has always been there. However, when one sees the fruits of the events through videos and films, it conveys home a very strong message, and encompasses you with an unshakable faith that there is nothing that we cannot accomplish. 

When Nomusa Haslot Zikhali, the Principal, reached Mnqobokazi to start the school, she was flabbergasted. There were no buildings. No resources. Just a wild field replete with undergrowth and bushes. The challenges were too many. Inclement weather. Rains that would make the stream they had to cross overflow with water. Crocodiles in the stream. Dust laden winds. Parents wanting their children to look after cattle or even younger siblings. And that was when she decides to move closer to the community and set up the school. She had to go from home to home in the community to impress upon them the need to educate their children. Her passion to educate these children weighed high than the troubles and travails.

In spite of that, in January 1999, there were just 10 children ready to join the school. And where was the school started? Under Four Trees!!! Each class – Classes 1 ,2, and 3 were allotted one tree each and the fourth one was Mrs. Zikhali’s office. As an educator, I am ashamed to say that I would have given up and just left the place for greener pastures. I am sure 99% of us educators would have done that. But not, Mrs. Zikhali. She persisted. And converted every problem into a possibility. The government did send other teachers to start the school, but they all gave up. Mrs. Zikhali on the other hand took the challenge head on. Thus from a one-teacher-220-student school, Nkomo Primary School has moved into another league now: 900 students and 23 teachers. Eight classrooms. And plenty of support from Africa Foundation to raise money for infrastructure.

Another challenge Mrs. Zikhali had to face was the presence of most vulnerable children in her school – whom she calls Child-headed Households, a chilling euphemism for those whose both parents were dead. Her school now has 153 of them – i.e. 17% of the under-13. To persist under these challenging and emotionally draining circumstances requires determination and the keen desire to make a difference in these students’ lives, which she had in plenty.  Her inspirational tale of nurturing, educating and transforming has been made into a movie called Under Four Trees by filmmakers Suzanne Cross and John Simpson.

Inspirational Leader

Inspirational Leader

Thank you Mrs. Zikhali for teaching me some very crucial lessons. The best one I will cherish and practice is to convert every problem into a possibility! If we look for solutions we can think creatively and find a way or two. However, many of us look only at the problems and therefore the possibility of a solution is just not there in the vicinity or in the periphery. May your tribe increase and be beacons that will enlighten the path of many educators like me.

Resources:
1. Mrs. Zikhali’s photograph from http://underfourtrees.co
2. http://bit.ly/14THso9

[* I wrote about being a fan of online learning vide my post http://bit.ly/18t4aUI. Am delighted to get a certificate signed by Prof. Richard Boyatzis, Professor of Organizational Behaviour at Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, Ohio and to have completed it with 84.5%. If you have never tried a MOOC, please do it today! 🙂 ]

Desiderata

Holiday season is around. It is the season for festivities, celebrations and reunions. It is also the time to look behind and beyond for we are at the threshold of a brand new year. There is a lot of turmoil all around the globe. Am sure there are a lot of good things that happen around the world. But we get to know more of the bad and the ugly possibly because the media absorbs them like a sponge and showcases them in all limelight.

Let us introspect for a while. How good was 2012 for you? Can you list the 5 best things that happened to you? Or the worst that has happened to you / what went horribly wrong? What could you have done better this year? Why did things go the way it went? Before an event we plan everything so that the event happens smoothly, without hitches and glitches. So it is with the new year.
Plan ahead.
Pay attention.
Do your best. Leave the rest.
Have Hope and Faith.
Believe in yourself and in everything you do.
Smile a lot. It is good for your body and spirit.
Silence the inner critic in you. Be kind most of all to yourself.
Let go of the past. The hurts. The troubles and travails.
Forgive and forget. It will release the demon, the prisoner in you.
Be compassionate. Judge not. You or others.

Finally let me leave you with this very positive credo for life. I came across this thanks to a dear friend Giribala Menon, way back in 1988, while working as an English Teacher in Chinmaya Vidyalaya, Pallavur. Those were troubled times for me personally and the lines were like a soothing balm on my frayed nerves. I must have read them hundreds of times! Called “Desiderata“, it was written by Max Ehrmann, a poet and lawyer from Terre Haute, Indiana, who lived from 1872 to 1945. It has been reported that Desiderata was inspired by an urge that Ehrmann wrote about in his diary: “I should like, if I could, to leave a humble gift – a bit of chaste prose that had caught up some noble moods.”

The word Desiderata, a noun, is the plural of desideratum (1650s), from Latin, lit. “something for which desire is felt,” from pp. stem of desiderare “to long for”. It means things wanted or desired. May these lines be a beacon of light whenever you walk along dark alleys and ride on troubled waters.

(I am using red and green for those are the colours of the festive season!) 🙂

                                                                 DESIDERATA

Go placidly amid the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence. As far as possible without surrender be on good terms with all persons. Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even the dull and ignorant; they too have their story. Avoid loud and aggressive persons, they are vexations to the spirit. If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain and bitter; for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.

Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans. Keep interested in your career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time. Exercise caution in your business affairs; for the world is full of trickery. But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals; and everywhere life is full of heroism.

Be yourself. Especially, do not feign affection. Neither be critical about love; for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment it is as perennial as the grass.

Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth. Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness. Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself.

You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be, and whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul. With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.

© Max Ehrmann 1927

MERRY CHRISTMAS!!!

Xmas

Loving Yourself: How to?

When I wrote my earlier post on Loving Myself – Is is Vanity or Necessity and shared it on my FB wall, a former student commented that it would be good to learn about the “how to” also. Therefore this post. I hasten to add that all these are tried and tested ways when I went through a “low self esteem” phase.
 
(I hope this is useful, Swati.) 
 
1. Discover yourself.
 
Ask yourself these questions: Do you know yourself well? What are your strong points? What are the areas where you have developmental needs? Write them all in a private journal. The more you know about yourself, the better you can accept yourself.
 
2. Smile often.
 
Research says that one uses less facial muscles to smile and more to frown. Therefore smile should come to us easily and naturally. It is not for nothing there is this saying that exhorts one to smile, for ‘it adds to one’s face value.’ Smiles beget smiles and what an amount of happy cheerful energy surrounds you! This is the most positive aspect of smiles. They are like sunshine – life giving and radiating.
 
3. Cultivate acceptance.
 
You are what you are physically. Technology has advanced so much that there are costly quick fixes like Botox or tummy tucks and the like to enhance one’s body image. It is also worth remembering that such alteration comes with heavy prices – the actual cost factor and the after effects that can be even life threatening. Look at yourself in the mirror and lovingly tell yourself “I love my … “ (fill it with every body part from head to toe). Look at yourself with new eyes. What a marvel you are thanks to each and every invisible part in your body! Take the case of your heart – it does the job silently. Should it stop, we cease to exist. But have we ever thanked our heart for keeping us alive? Our legs, for taking us from place to place? This exercise of thanking each and every part of our body will help us with not only acceptance but also fill us with gratitude.
 
4. Learn from mistakes.
 
Society abhors the ‘F’ word – failure I mean. Historically educators as well as adults have created a climate that does not encourage errors. Failure is pictured as a bottomless abyss from which pupils / people can never come out. No wonder then that many young teens are hope-less and despondent even before they have entered the brave new adult world. Whether it is homework, test taking, making friends or playing games, learning is enriched through making mistakes. It is here that a parent /mentor/educator can play a vital role – encourage all even when they make mistakes. This will prompt them to try again and not give up in despair.
 
5. Be kind & positive to yourself.
 
Many cannot forgive the lapses they make or that of others. Research says that ruminating about the past and about mistakes committed releases so many negative emotions and expressions, increase cardiac reactivity and impair the body’s parasympathetic calming response. Compassion and forgiveness on the other hand generate a host of positive emotions and responses, giving the body comfort, control and the right social orientation. So, it is worth letting go of bitterness and grudges. The moment you do that you stop being and acting like a victim. More importantly, forgive your own trespasses. Close your eyes, take a deep breath and say, “I forgive myself for——.” Another technique is to write a letter to your own self about the transgression. Burn it (be careful and prevent accidents of fire). This is symbolic of burning the thoughts of guilt and being reborn from its ashes, like the proverbial phoenix.
 
6. Silence the inner critic in you.
 
Is your negative self with its nonstop chatter, chiding you at each and every step? Stop this; else it will kill your self-confidence, and leave you at the very edge of depression and anxiety. Such an inner critic is all about the past and looks for blame. Replace that which beats you up with something new that will make you feel good – something constructive, positive. Accept your imperfections and be grateful that you are you and not anyone else. Remember it is perfectly ok to not be perfect.
 
7. Affirmations – use them lavishly.
 
“I live in the present, here and now.”
“I am very contented and happy.”
“I am fit and healthy.”
“I am me, I am ok.”
Words are expressions of thought and repeated positive and fostering expressions send positive vibrations to the Universe and make thoughts happen. So use suitable affirmations to develop love for yourself.
 
8. Look after your Body.
 
Eat healthy. Nurture it with proper nutrition and exercise. Treat it with utmost respect and care. Nourish it with Love. Very often many body image issues occur because the body lacks love and care.
 
9. Stay away from the comparison trap.
 
Can you ever compare apples with oranges? Each has its unique features. Never compare yourself with others. Comparing results in judging and leads to resentment, hatred. It evokes either inferiority or superiority, besides a host of other negative, damaging feelings. How do you stop comparing? Count your blessings! Focus on your positives, your strengths. To love yourself is to stop comparing.
 
10. Journal and plot your shift.
 
This is a highly reflective and effective exercise. Look at the good and the bad / the high and the low of each day. Jot it down in a private diary. It is an amazing stress buster and helps to release all pent up emotions. The consequent reflection empowers you by clearing your mind and giving you focus. When life hits unprecedented lows of change, hurt, loss and pain, journal writing can detoxify and heal. It can be an observation journal or the very effective gratitude journal.
 
So, there we are – love yourself first. When nobody celebrates or compliments you, learn to do them to yourself. Learn to enjoy your own company. The more you like yourself, the less you will want the lives of other people. The more the encouragement comes from within you, the more wholesome you will be. And the more wholesome you are, the more you will love yourself!
 
Reference:

A Fantastic Friday

I treasure weekends! They help me revive, recharge and do nothing much and laze around – well, just be myself. I love being at home; cooking food that I love; staying in touch with loved ones back in India over the web; reading books; listening to music; spending time on Sudoku & crosswords; going for walks in the morning and finally do some bit of planning for the week ahead. This weekend was especially welcome as I would be having an extended weekend due to holidays for the UAE National Day celebrations on 2nd and 3rd December.
Holidays, therefore, bring a sparkle to my eyes; a warm broad smile to my lips; an energetic spring to my steps and a relaxed laziness to my demeanour.

So, today I woke up by 6 am and by 6.45 went out for a walk. The sky seemed cloudy and it was very pleasant. After my walk, on my return I hopped into a supermarket and when I came out, there was a superfine drizzle. I had the choice of going by cab… but the smell of the earth was so tempting that I trashed the idea. I would walk in the rain and smell the earth… a rather unusual luxury in this part of the globe. It was a good 15 minute walk and I had a couple of carry bags. But all that did not deter me. As I was almost reaching home, a car stopped by, the man at the wheel lowered the glass and very courteously asked me if he could give me a lift! I thanked him and shook my head – the car sped along. I was truly happy to see the goodness in people.

Once I came home, I plunged in to cooking breakfast and lunch. Made delicious Tomato Pachadi (a typical Kerala dish with coconut & yoghurt), bitter gourd fry, Keera (a kind of Spinach) thoran (a dry dish seasoned often with grated coconut) to go with rice. By then it was 10.30 am. As I walked into the living room, my eyes riveted at an unusual sight well beyond my balcony – steady rainfall! Excitement got the better of me. I quickly changed my home clothes, and went down, without an umbrella. Yes, it was raining quite heavily.  I walked into the rain. The sight of happy umbrella clad children wading through the waters and jumping into poodles met my eye. In fact, some fathers and mothers had brought them out to experience the rain. Adults on the other hand found shelter and walked along sun shades to escape the rain. I even espied a father clicking the picture of a girl playing in the rain. I walked along, taking care not to walk along the sun shade – I wanted to feel the rain on me!

The way back was even more enjoyable. The rain was was getting heavier and falling on my face. Every person that I met had a twinkle in their eye – either because they too were enjoying the rain like me or because they found my walking in the rain quite amusing! By the time I cam back to my building I was quite wet. I entered the lift and looked at myself in the mirror. Lo! I had worn my kurta inside out!!! However, this did not perturb me one bit. I told myself, it is not as if you walked around in the nude, Asha. So it is okay! The whole experience was so refreshing even as it brought out once again the child in me.

(On my return home, later in the day I wanted to find out what gives this heady fragrance to the Earth when the first drops of water fall on it. Did you know that some kinds of Actinobacteria are responsible for the intoxicating odour emanating from the earth when the first drops of rain fall in places that normally have warm climate? Or that the scent of rain on dry earth is called, Petrichor? Or that the word has Greek  origin? ‘Petra’ in Greek means stone and ‘ichor’ is the fluid that courses along the veins of Greek Gods? Or that the chemical that causes this odour is called Geosmin? Everything truly embeds some kind of learning!)

DSC_0092

Gathering clouds – the view from the 15th floor balcony of my home, today evening

The whole day was a rainy one. By evening the sky had black clouds and there were  strong showers too. This time it was accompanied by Nature’s fanfare. Yes, the clamour of thunder and the flashes of lightning heightened my rain experience – of the rain-starved- average-Indian expat… and that too from Kerala where the Monsoon really weaves its magic and spell binds the rain lover!

Loving Myself – Is it Vanity or Necessity??

From childhood most of us Indians are taught to love others. Show consideration for others. Even at the cost of harming ourselves, we do that to the T. Yet many a time we are never taught to love ourselves. Loving oneself is such a wholesome thing to do; yet, it is branded as being selfish. Why is it so?

For starters I look up the thesaurus for a synonym for self-love; I find a number of words all of which have a negative connotation. Look at this visual thesaurus below and you’ll understand what I mean!

Some other synonyms are words bordering egoism, self centeredness, pride and vanity! No, these are not words that I am looking for. Plain love and liking for oneself which will give each one of us tremendous boost of self esteem. A feel-good pill. The harmless and free  medicine to combat vexation and depression.

Everyday I come across young people who hate themselves because they are not like someone else. They have poor self image because they think that they are not like zero size models. They believe that they are a cursed lot because they are not as “fair” “shapely” or “beautiful” as say, glamorous actresses. How should we handle this situation, as parents and as teachers?

The secret lies in developing a sense of self worth in these young minds. Listen to them and their plaints. Patiently talk to them about loving themselves as they are. Personality is about character and one’s inner self and not the peripherals. The bottom line is to help them learn to enjoy their own company. The more they like themselves, the less they will want the lives of other people; be like other people.

For if you can’t love or like yourself, how can others love or like you???

Reference: http://thesaurus.com/browse/self-love?s=t

Loving Yourself – The How To

When I wrote my earlier post on Loving Myself – Is is Vanity or Necessity and shared it on my FB page, a former student commented that it would be good to learn about the “how to” also. Therefore this post. I hasten to add that all these are tried and tested ways when I went through a “low self esteem” phase.

(I hope this is useful, Swati.)  

1. Discover yourself.

Ask yourself these questions: Do you know yourself well? What are your strong points? What are the areas where you have developmental needs? Write them all in a private journal. The more you know about yourself, the better you can accept yourself.

2. Smile often.

Research says that one uses less facial muscles to smile and more to frown. Therefore smile should come to us easily and naturally. It is not for nothing there is this saying that exhorts one to smile, for ‘it adds to one’s face value.’  Smiles beget smiles and what an amount of happy cheerful energy surrounds you! This is the most positive aspect of smiles. They are like sunshine – life giving and radiating.

3. Cultivate acceptance.

You are what you are physically. Technology has advanced so much that there are costly quick fixes like Botox or tummy tucks and the like to enhance one’s body image. It is also worth remembering that such alteration comes with heavy prices – the actual cost factor and the after effects that can be even life threatening. Look at yourself in the mirror and lovingly tell yourself “I love my … “ (fill it with every body part from head to toe). Look at yourself with new eyes. What a marvel you are thanks to each and every invisible part in your body! Take the case of your heart – it does the job silently. Should it stop, we cease to exist. But have we ever thanked our heart for keeping us alive? Our legs, for taking us from place to place? This exercise of thanking each and every part of our body will help us with not only acceptance but also fill us with gratitude.

4. Learn from mistakes.

Society abhors the ‘F’ word – failure I mean. Historically educators as well as adults have created a climate that does not encourage errors. Failure is pictured as a bottomless abyss from which pupils / people can never come out. No wonder then that many young teens are hope-less and despondent even before they have entered the brave new adult world. Whether it is homework, test taking, making friends or playing games, learning is enriched through making mistakes. It is here that a parent /mentor/educator can play a vital role – encourage all even when they make mistakes. This will prompt them to try again and not give up in despair.

5. Be kind & positive to yourself.

Many cannot forgive the lapses they make or that of others. Research says that ruminating about the past and about mistakes committed releases so many negative emotions and expressions, increase cardiac reactivity and impair the body’s parasympathetic calming response. Compassion and forgiveness on the other hand generate a host of positive emotions and responses, giving the body comfort, control and the right social orientation. So, it is worth letting go of bitterness and grudges. The moment you do that you stop being and acting like a victim. More importantly, forgive your own trespasses. Close your eyes, take a deep breath and say, “I forgive myself for——.” Another technique is to write a letter to your own self about the transgression. Burn it (be careful and prevent accidents of fire). This is symbolic of burning the thoughts of guilt and being reborn from its ashes, like the proverbial phoenix.

6. Silence the inner critic in you.

Is your negative self with its nonstop chatter, chiding you at each and every step? Stop this; else it will kill your self-confidence, and leave you at the very edge of depression and anxiety. Such an inner critic is all about the past and looks for blame. Replace that which beats you up with something new that will make you feel good – something constructive, positive. Accept your imperfections and be grateful that you are you and not anyone else. Remember it is perfectly ok to not be perfect.

7. Affirmations – use them lavishly.

“I live in the present, here and now.”
“I am very contented and happy.”
“I am fit and healthy.”
“I am me, I am ok.”

Words are expressions of thought and repeated positive and fostering expressions send positive vibrations to the Universe and make thoughts happen. So use suitable affirmations to develop love for yourself.

8. Look after your Body.

Eat healthy. Nurture it with proper nutrition and exercise. Treat it with utmost respect and care. Nourish it with Love. Very often many body image issues occur because the body lacks love and care.

9. Stay away from the comparison trap.

Can you ever compare apples with oranges? Each has its unique features. Never compare yourself with others. Comparing results in judging and leads to resentment, hatred. It evokes either inferiority or superiority, besides a host of other negative, damaging feelings. How do you stop comparing? Count your blessings! Focus on your positives, your strengths. To love yourself is to stop comparing.

10. Journal and plot your shift.

This is a highly reflective and effective exercise. Look at the good and the bad / the high and the low of each day. Jot it down in a private diary. It is an amazing stress buster and helps to release all pent up emotions. The consequent reflection empowers you by clearing your mind and giving you focus. When life hits unprecedented lows of change, hurt, loss and pain, journal writing can detoxify and heal. It can be an observation journal or the very effective gratitude journal.

So, there we are – love yourself first. When nobody celebrates or compliments you, learn to do them to yourself. Learn to enjoy your own company. The more you like yourself, the less you will want the lives of other people. The more the encouragement comes from within you, the more wholesome you will be. And the more wholesome you are, the more you will love yourself!

Reference:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/charlotte-vanoyen-witvliet-phd/surprised-by-happiness-wh_b_787126.html

http://www.deepermeditation.net/stressadviceblog/the-benefits-of-journaling-and-how-to-start-183

Loving Myself – Is it Vanity or Necessity??

From childhood most of us Indians are taught to love others. Show consideration for others. Even at the cost of harming ourselves, we do that to the T. Yet many a time we are never taught to love ourselves. Loving oneself is such a wholesome thing to do; yet, it is branded as being selfish. Why is it so?

For starters I look up the thesaurus for a synonym for self-love; I find a number of words all of which have a negative connotation. Look at this visual thesaurus below and you’ll understand what I mean!

Some other synonyms are words bordering egoism, self centeredness, pride and vanity! No, these are not words that I am looking for. Plain love and liking for oneself which will give each one of us tremendous boost of self esteem. A feel-good pill. The harmless and free  medicine to combat vexation and depression.

Everyday I come across young people who hate themselves because they are not like someone else. They have poor self image because they think that they are not like zero size models. They believe that they are a cursed lot because they are not as “fair” “shapely” or “beautiful” as say, glamorous actresses. How should we handle this situation, as parents and as teachers?

The secret lies in developing a sense of self worth in these young minds. Listen to them and their plaints. Patiently talk to them about loving themselves as they are. Personality is about character and one’s inner self and not the peripherals. The bottom line is to help them learn to enjoy their own company. The more they like themselves, the less they will want the lives of other people; be like other people.

For if you can’t love or like yourself, how can others love or like you???

Reference: http://thesaurus.com/browse/self-love?s=t