They say “be careful for what you wish for”.  Last year I decided I needed to do something that would shake me up, make me uncomfortable and rejuvenate me.

I wasn’t sure what that was, but I knew when I came across it I would know.

A couple of months later I received an email about the CERES Global Trip  – Rethinking approaches to Community Development in India. I read the description and everything about it appealed to me and I knew that some how; it would meet to varying extents, what I was looking for.

The itinerary of the trip excited me – ABCD conference in Goa, half day tour of Dharavi (one of Asia’s largest slums or colonies which is a hub of small scale industry with a annual turnover of approximately US$ 665 million) followed by a visit to Swaraj University (Swaraj University was created in 2010 that offers a two year learning programme for youth and Shikshantar – The People’s Institute for rethinking education and development) in Udaipur.

This was all going to be done as a group – a group of up to 20 total strangers! That in itself was going to be a challenge as I had not travelled in this way for a very long time – shared rooms, shared bathrooms, overnight bus and train rides, possible travel and stomach sickness – oh dear.

I pushed all my fears and concerns to the back and decided to focus on all that this trip was going to bring – I had no expectations other than one of learning and I went with an open heart and an open mind.

And this is what happened…..

The ABCD Conference was no ordinary conference  – it demonstrated the principles of Asset Based Community Development with different participants contributing to the 5 days, be it by presenting, documenting the sessions, running ice breakers or early morning yoga sessions.

This was a community of not necessarily practitioners, but people who were all bound by their commitment to community and the environment. Everyone there was there to learn and share and these were some of the things that stood out for me.

ABCD is about our local assets being the building blocks of sustainable development. This work is built on the work initiated in the 1980’s by John McKnight and Jody Kretzmann.

The foundation being:

  1. Focusing on the strengths of the community and place rather than the problems and needs.
  2. Identifying and mobilising individual and community assets
  3. Ensure it is community driven – building communities from the inside out and
  4. It’s based on relationships

The assets we refer can be categorised in to six areas:

  • Our skills and abilities
  • Networks of communities and organisations
  • Institutions such as businesses, local government and not for profit organisations
  • The natural and built environment
  • Our local economy eg. volunteer work; swapping services and goods and traditional business
  • Stories that capture the culture and heritage

What this taught me was the importance of stepping back, letting go, listening and working alongside community and the importance of trust and respect.

The conference came to end after 5 days and we regrouped and set off to Mumbai on the overnight train.

From the calm and idyllic setting of Goa and the Goan people, we entered the large and dense metropolis of Mumbai. Here we visited Dharavi, a place like I have never experienced before. Every square inch was used and here lived an industrious and connected community.

As we made our way through a maze of potters, poppadom makers, the making of clothes, soap, metal and plastic recycling and people’s homes it was important to notice the connection about working and living in the same place.

The housing that the government was building did not have the capacity for some of these industries to survive. Although there are challenges these communities, t