Stories

My Story

Our Story

Their Story

Their Story

My Story

By Dana McDaniel Seale

Have you ever wondered why some people hit a crisis in life and become angry and defeated while others hit a similar crisis and become kinder and stronger? I have. Over the course of my life, I have lived and worked in several low and middle-income countries doing faith-based service work. This has given me the opportunity to sometimes witness life at its very hardest. And though it’s not completely easy to understand, I have seen that joy often has very little to do with circumstances. Some of the people that surrounded me gave up when they were met with big challenges while others actually grew and thrived.

In 2013, I began a Masters of Applied Positive Psychology (MAPP) program at the University of Pennsylvania to pursue the scientific study of human flourishing and resilience. I was fascinated to learn that within social science research, there is a common language for 24 universal values called character strengths, and that training in these character strengths leads to increased well-being (viame.org). I was also encouraged to learn that the ability to bounce back after trauma is not something you are born with, but rather a learnable skill. This ability to make a comeback is really important--it protects against depression, lowers alcohol use and builds inner strength. What hope to find that resilience could be cultivated!

I thought about the world outside the four walls of my classroom--a world with people living in war-torn villages, refugee camps, and HIV clinics. How would they ever access what I was studying? It seemed unlikely that most of them would ever read a book about resilience, especially not one in English. A desire to help bridge the gap began to burn inside of me. I decided to create a culturally adaptable resilience-training curriculum that could be taught to anyone, regardless of reading ability or language skills.

Ideas began to flow, and I knew God was helping me.

It occurred to me that storytelling is a universal and time-tested method of teaching around the world and could be easily applied in character strength training. The Bible offered a wealth of stories with positive role models and had already been translated into 683 languages. I selected 24 Bible stories that aligned with the VIA character strengths and incorporated evidence-based exercises from the field of positive psychology.

I named the program Global Resilience Oral Workshops (GROW). My GROW capstone was posted to the University of Pennsylvania’s Scholarly Commons website in 2014. Since that time, it has been downloaded in over 100 countries worldwide. https://repository.upenn.edu/mapp_capstone/55/

Our Story

The GROW Research Team

As the downloads of the GROW capstone continued to roll in, I felt a pull to take the curriculum to the next level. I knew the program would need to be tested to see if it made a measurable difference in people’s lives, but I needed help figuring out how to move forward with a pilot.

My husband, Paul Seale, is a physician and research scientist in the field of substance misuse and addictions. Having supported me greatly throughout my graduate education, he now came alongside me to provide expertise and direction in figuring out how to test and measure the impact of the program.

Could we empower children with the gift of inner strength, hope, and resilience even if their personal circumstances were really challenging?

We were eager to test GROW in an international setting, and with adolescent depression at a crisis level around the world, we decided to target children ages 11-13.

As we considered another researcher to include as a co-investigator, our thoughts went to Dr. Sion Harris. We had coincidentally met Sion on an elevator several months prior and had learned that she was studying the impact of the character strength of forgiveness on alcohol use in adolescents. As an Associate Professor of Pediatrics at Harvard Medical School and co-director for the Center for Adolescent Substance Abuse Research at Boston Children’s Hospital, she was a perfect fit. We were thrilled when she accepted our invitation to join the core research team for the GROW project.

Their Stories

Participants and parents
School
administrators
Leaders
Participants and parents
Bravery

"The GROW program has helped me a lot… like Bravery.  Bravery is choosing to say and do the right thing, even when it is hard to do so. Remember, most brave people feel the emotion of being afraid but they just don’t let fear stop them because they know that doing the right thing is important."

Alfred Lywel Kumz, 6th grade

Perseverance

"The 24 character strengths are so good and important in our lives.  Perseverance has helped me so much to bounce back, to stay strong and to never ever give up in problem times."

Naomi Banda, 6th grade

Honesty

"This program has changed my life. Honesty is speaking and acting in complete truth and sincerity. Always remember, when in doubt, go ahead and be honest. Honesty is the best policy.  God is honest in his book.  He doesn’t hide his disappointments and frustrations when the people he loved sinned."

Brian Daka, 6th grade

Perseverance

"The child is now very strong. Before… any simple challenges she could cry but not anymore. She is able to stand situations."

Parent, GROW Focus Group

School administrators
Love of Learning and Love of Excellence

"There’s now a huge desire to excel.  Before they didn’t do work or do it correctly.  Now they have drive and desire, they’re more inquisitive, opening, up and want to know more about life."

School Administrator, GROW Focus Group

Leadership

"They take responsibility, even picking up litter and volunteering to help more."

School Administrator, GROW Focus Group

Perspective

"It’s the most important program in the school because of the positive impact on the children and the whole school."

School Administrator, GROW Focus Group

Perspective

"It’s brought changes that are needed.  Teacher and parent’s work become easier."

School Administrator, GROW Focus Group

Perspective

"A child who doesn’t get trained in character but gets the best education suffers."

School Administrator, GROW Focus Group

Leaders
Hope

"God has changed my life through GROW by helping me to understand that now matter how tough things get, he is always with me and he loves me and has created me for his high purposes and his using my story to bring so much goodness to the lives of the children I teach."

Sibong’ile Banda, GROW leader

Spirituality

"GROW has changed me.  I have become resilient in teaching the children and have developed a closer relationship with God. I enjoy seeing the children becoming better in class performance, behavior and having a relationship with God."

Hildah Ngoma, GROW leader

Hope

"If we do this on a larger scale, we will have vulnerable children who resist depression, pressures of life, and their quality of life will increase. GROW can actually change the status of a vulnerable child to a viable child."

Yvonne Pande, Deputy Director of Expanded Church Response

Gratitude

"GROW has helped me understand the love of God over mankind and how to live well with others and how to appreciate all that he has created. For this my heart is filled with gratitude."

Wilson Kawina, GROW leader

Prudence

"I love GROW.  GROW has helped me to think carefully and to pause before I take first steps. It has taught me to be patient and accepting and to expect the best to happen."
Ruth Phiri
6th Grade

Social Intelligence

"I have learned to assess where individuals are in the change process and how to help them move forward"
Priscilla Mukoka

GROW leader

Spirituality

"My child never used to pray before going to sleep at night but now she prays always."
Parent
GROW Focus Group