As I mentioned in the first blog post in this series, one of the core principles of ABCD (Asset-Based Community Development) is to focus on the assets, or as I prefer to call them, the gifts, of a local community. It’s worth repeating that – from an ABCD perspective – focusing on gifts in the community does not mean repressing or ignoring present problems or issues. It is about focusing on what’s strong to deal with what’s wrong. In other words, it is about addressing the needs of the local community by first detecting and connecting the gifts at hand.
One of the most precious gifts that we have found in the last year has been getting to know Ewa Karpinska. In fact, meeting Ewa was one of those serendipitous encounters that I can only describe as a gift in itself.
Flashback to early August 2017: I am walking our then small puppy Rio by the Edgbaston Reservoir. I let Rio off the lead in a field, and the next thing I know, Rio is deep into the brambles on a mission to discover some hidden treasure… When I finally find Rio, he is ‘greeting’ Ewa, who by first impressions is clearly a dog-lover as well a keen forager. After just a few minutes of grazing on blackberries and chatting with Ewa, I find out that:
• she is Polish;
• she has lived locally for the last 12 years;
• she is a trained chef; and
• she is currently unemployed.
Intuitively I also know that she is so much more than an immigrant who happens to be unemployed; she is a ‘doer’ with gifts to share. She simply needs a place to connect her passionate gift for cooking.
September 2017: I invite Ewa to Place of Welcome, a weekly neighbourhood drop-in coffee morning, in order to introduce Ewa to a few neighbours, including our neighbourhood super-connector Ann Gallagher. I happen to know that Ann is looking for cooks at The Real Junk Food Project Birmingham. Watching the sparks fly between Ewa and Ann, I know that I am looking at the next cook on the rota at TRJFP Birmingham!
October 2017: Ewa helps us kick off our 1st Neighbour Nights monthly gathering as the head chef, and she has not missed one yet! Six months in, not only is Ewa head chef, she has also “detected and connected” others from the local Polish community to join in Neighbour Nights, as well as other neighbourhood activities. By being connected to a community of neighbours and friends, Ewa has shown herself to be a skilled community-based chef who has a real gift for pulling people together around food.
Now: When I see Ewa bringing “her game" to the neighbourhood, I see her as more than a chef. In fact, she has become a key character in the story of our neighbourhood, someone who is the fabric of care and love one meal at a time.
Which makes me think: Could it be that neighbourhoods like Summerfield are filled with Ewas? If this is so, then paradoxically, the most creative way to address issues such as community cohesion and social isolation is not by assuming the role of ‘problem solver,’ but rather by growing into the role of “treasure seeker.” Then the primary work of network weaving at the neighbourhood level is simply the work of “detecting and connecting the gifts of Ewas with the gifts of other Ewas.”