Life Story work at EKansh Trust

Of story, self and identity.

My morning begins with Shubham, a young man about twenty years of age, and Tyson, who is three years old. Shubham in person and Tyson in a number of stories that I hear about him. Tyson is a dog, a German Shepherd.  He is strong, he can rip free from his chain and he has been known to chase off an entire pack of strays from the building society that he considers his territory. He has sometimes nipped human beings. He leaps, grabs, snatches things and knocks people over in his enthusiasm. Shubham tells me though that Tyson treats him differently. If Shubham has a ball in his hand that he intends to toss for the dog to fetch, Tyson waits. He doesn’t knock Shubham down. He doesn’t snatch and grab the ball. Shubham asks me whether I think Tyson knows that he is not like other people.
(What is, not like other people? I ask him)
Does the dog know that I can’t see, that I am visually challenged?
Yes, I tell him, it is possible the dog knows. Dogs know these things.

We are in the office of the EKansh Trust with Aparna and Shubhavi (a volunteer at EKansh). Anita walks in and I tell her Shubham’s story of Tyson.  She tells him about service dogs in other countries trained to work as assistants to human beings who are visually challenged or who experience disability or impairment in other ways.

One by one the others troop in. There’s Vicky and Nutan, both looking ruffled about some paper work related to college admissions. Shubhavi sits with them to figure out what they can do. Bhagwan walks in, finds a chair, greets everyone and sits with his bag carefully at his feet. He grins as Aparna teases him and says that he never lets that bag get away from him. Shubham introduces us. He calls me ma’am. I tell them my name. They continue doggedly to call me ma’am. We are waiting for Tejas, the last of this group of five young people, each of whom is visually challenged. Tejas walks in and we are good to go.

 

Listening to the stories of young people at EKansh.

Listening to the stories of young people at EKansh.

 

The workshop begins and I tell them it’s going to be about working with yourself, you and the things you value, are going to be the focus. This is my way of introducing the concept of self and identity. I tell them that a name is just a code, doesn’t tell you about the person. They nod their heads and begin to look very interested. They are asked if they are okay being photographed during the workshop as part of our documentation and with the use of these photographs for presenting and explaining this workshop to other people. They are all okay with this. I have done a bit of planning and preparation for this workshop. Instead of my usual workshop art materials comprising crayons and drawing sheets, today I have other materials to aid fun, creativity and expression. There’s fragranced modeling clay, there’s two different kinds of pipe cleaners of differing texture, there’s short lengths of silk ribbon, small fabric butterflies and small cockle shells which I suspect are not real but feel authentic.

Each person is to think of something they value in their own life and this is a small part of their life story. I tell them that this story is for group sharing and so it must not be something so personal that it makes the teller uncomfortable sharing it. They are asked to choose a word from their story, just a single word, that holds a clue to the story. These are the words that emerge – ग़ाना (Gaana – song/singing) – नहाना (Nahana – bathing) – आक्रामक (Aakramak – aggressive) – Knowledge – Daddy. I share these words with you to give you a flavor of happenings. Who said what, and what the stories were, belong to the small group, not quite yet for wider sharing without permission.

The group is curious, they want to know what we are going to do with these words. I tell them it isn’t story telling time yet. They are now going to work with craft materials and craft something. The only thing is, they must keep thinking of their word and story. This gets everyone laughing. The moulding clay goes to each. There is a flurry of excitement, the little pots are uncapped, the clay is felt and smelt and while some dig it out others ask for help getting the clay out. I only help the ones who ask for assistance. I also ask if assistance is required.

 

Pipe cleaners can help tell a story.

Pipe cleaners can help tell a story.

 

Next it’s the turn of the pipe cleaners. I tell them all I am holding these in my hand in the centre of our circle and they are to reach out, feel them and take a few. The excitement is palpable. Hands reach out. They touch the furry and hairy textures. The hands are snatched back by grinning young adults and I find myself grinning with them. Finally everyone has two or three bits of pipe cleaner and they are busy working them, feeling how they flex. Next they get ribbons and finally the sea shells. I drop the idea of fabric butterflies because it’s becoming too much to keep track of so many materials.

 

Fiddly thing won't stay in place!

Fiddly thing won’t stay in place!

 

The next twenty minutes is pure fun and some hysteria. Shapes and objects are crafted, crumbled, re-crafted. Out of these five people, three laughed and crafted their way through twenty minutes and never stopped talking and nudging each other and exchanging their work-in-progress for feedback and solidarity. One crafted in complete silence, absorbed and focused. One insisted that the next time we do this, we include fevicol in the materials to help stick things together! This group has created an atmosphere rich with feeling and doing. I have to tell them three times to stop because we are running out of time and our stories still need to be told.

 

 

 

 

The stories are quite specific. Three of them are personal, focusing on emotion, mood and feeling. One is a spur of the moment creation, it is a message about the environment. The fifth expresses an aspiration, to be more and to do more. We discuss the stories and the values they represent, what they tell us about each person.

Finally it’s time to wrap up. I ask them whether they got bored. There is a chorus of ‘No’s and they tell me they want more. One says this workshop made him happy because it took him back to his childhood and learning craft work in school. One says the workshop gave them a chance to sit and think about themselves, and about what’s important, something they do not otherwise get a chance to do with someone else. We discussed the possible dates to continue this work. Up ahead there will be one-on-one sessions as well. Anita asked them to consider if they would like to train to conduct these workshops with other groups.

 

Sea shell ears. Good for listening.

Sea shell ears. Good for listening.

This is their first workshop with me based on the Life Story approach and focusing on self and identity. It is also my first workshop with young adults who are sight challenged. I came across Life Story work on the internet. Briefly, Life Story is personal, autobiographical work which grows through stories and memories of oneself, shared with family, friend or care worker. It is the process of remembering, narrating and sharing experiences and stories from one’s own life and recording these in creative ways that include writing, scrap books of pictures and memorabilia, sketching scenes, audio-video recording and any other such. It is a fuller, interactive way of sharing memories and recollections, of strengthening your identity, of celebrating and re-visualising your own life.

 

 

In some other countries, Life Stories are a part of organized interactions with young people and older adults, in and out of care settings. At Caregivers Link, we are exploring the Life Story process by introducing it to diverse individuals and groups, through workshops and one-on-one interactions. We strongly believe this helps people focus on themselves, spend time communicating with each other about things that matter at a personal, emotional level, understand themselves and their relationships, and identify and strengthen the positive.

Read what happened at the next workshop and one-to-one sessions

Key Principles of Life Story work

Why do Life Story work?

Who can facilitate the Life Story process?

Preliminary work with Life Stories at SRCF

2 comments

  1. admin says:

    I think this sort of doing is great, most of us have to shed many layers of accumulated self-consciousness before we do this in a group. We’re too concerned with what other people see.Happy to have you here RC :-)

  2. RC says:

    Can we also do? Play with pipe-cleaners and craft butterflies and sundry other stuff as we tell our stories? Sounds like so much fun and so deep at the same time! Thanks for sharing…seems that everyone got a lot out of it, as did you, too : )

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