When No Planning Is The Best Planning

by | Feb 8, 2019

“It is the task of the enlightened not only to ascend to learning and to see the good but to be willing to descend again to those prisoners and to share their troubles and their honours, whether they are worth having or not. And this they must do, even with the prospect of death.”
Plato, the Allegory of the Cave

Having been a part of the formal education system, I have always been coerced to think on the lines of planning and strategy. Specifically, in the development sector, it is always required for the educated ones to train, educate and hone skills of the local community. As suggested even in Plato’s republic, this school of thinking talks volumes about the previously mentioned ideology. Though, it only took one event and 15 odd women to break this stereotype of the privileged and educated elite.

On a bright Monday morning, I was invited for an event that was supposed to be facilitated by community counselors who are a group of active women from the area that voluntarily support the Maternal and New born Health Program at my organisation, Innovators in Health. They not only give pre-natal and post-natal counselling to  pregnant women here but also in case of emergencies, fill the gaps in the public health system by taking women in need to the nearest health facility. With a spirit of commitment towards their community, they even extend their help in organizing and mobilizing women for our community engagement meetings.

For the event, I was informed by one of my colleagues that the community counselors had been asked to prepare a skit or a story-telling session with the women in order to mobilize them. Another purpose was to make themselves known to the community. The theme for this event revolved around understanding our social capital or wonders we could do by helping each other voluntarily. For the same reason, they had planned to meet a week earlier and prepare but only 5 of 15 had turned up. Towards the end of the day, none of them were able to plan anything and we were sure that it was going to be a flop show. It was a cringing situation for all of us at the office as no one was able to ignore the lack of planning.

As we reached the venue with little or no expectation, we saw a bunch of local women sitting with our community counselors. The latter were narrating their stories one after the other and the participants were listening to them with all their attention. The event was heading well, up until one woman from the community got up and left. This elimination resulted in a string of women leaving. Towards the end, there were only three women left but this did not seem to waiver the confidence of counselors. They continued telling their stories.

With an attempt to keep these three women hooked, one of the counselors got up with a baby in her hand and started asking for help. She narrated her ordeal, “See, look at my baby, she is so unwell, but I am unable to do anything as my husband abandoned me and ran away with the money. I have no one, my daughter will die. Will any of you please help me take her to a nearby doctor?” Another counselor got up with an affirmation to help. This provoked other counselors and then even the three women rose up to help with money and any support she may need.

It took us (my colleague and I) about a minute or two to realize that they were actually attempting to do a play. All of it seemed so real and natural that we were unable to take cognizance of the fact that this was an act. It ended on a happy note with the counselor’s fictional daughter receiving aid and help from the community to visit the nearby doctor.  Once, the event was over, we came back to the office with the team of 15 counselors, still pleasantly surprised with what happened.

My colleague uttered, “Why do we always belittle the potential these women have? Why does the fact that, they can do it without us not come to us as naturally as they need us?” Her words indeed left me intrigued and dumbstruck.

Isn’t it actually true that we underestimate the talent and potential that people in the community have, just because, we are told to be the planners or the ones to guide?  Indeed, sometimes all we need to do is have faith in those we try to enlighten and empower.  For a change, let’s look at them as the empowered ones and we as the ones who could fetch some enlightenment from them.

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  1. Anupama Pain

    I can see that this comes from a place of empathy and frustration … always beautiful to read such pieces. Your blogs through the 7 months have been delightful to go through Uttara. I like how most of them have very well captured the various learning and insights from the field experiences. Will like to also read a personal blog, sharing about your non- work journey through these months … Also, very good writing needless to say!

    • Uttara Seshu

      Thank you so much Anupama 🙂


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