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STORYCENTER Blog

We are pleased to present posts by StoryCenter staff, storytellers, colleagues from partnering organizations, and thought leaders in Storywork and related fields.

Finding the Extraordinary in the Ordinary: How Storytelling Can Take Back Narratives on American Muslim Life

Amy Hill

The stories shared in the workshop break with dominant stereotypes that cast Muslims in a dark and dangerous light—showing instead the extraordinary successes, in spite of their struggles, of ordinary Muslim New Yorkers who shine in their respective professions.

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Border Youth Tennis Exchange: Stories From Both Sides of the U.S. – Mexico Border

Root Barrett

As menacing as it is for the larger body-politic to malign border communities and mischaracterize them as dangerous and violent, the potential harm is even more insidious when communities that live only miles apart are separated by fear, anxiety, and mistrust. BYTE hopes through the stories to show that a child playing tennis or learning to use digital tools looks very similar, whether in Mexico or in Arizona.

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Courageous Women in Kenya, Uganda, and Zambia Share Stories of Gender-Based Violence

Root Barrett

Editors’s Note: In February, our Silence Speaks initiative traveled to Kenya to work with staff of programs as part of DREAMS Innovation Challenge, a program funded by a grant from the United States Department of State managed by JSI Research & Training Institute, Inc.. In recognition of April as Sexual Assault Awareness Month in the U.S., we're honored to feature on our blog the written versions of several powerful stories created in Kenya. (Stay tuned for the digital stories, which will be finalized soon!)

Women Should Not Have to Suffer in Silence
By Angeline Masinde, Bar Hostess Empowerment & Support Program (BHESP), Kenya

  Angeline works with DREAMS Innovation Challenge grantee BHESP, which gives adolescent girls and young women in Kenya greater control over their HIV prevention approaches, including PrEP, through public awareness campaigns, peer education, and HIV testing and counseling.

Angeline works with DREAMS Innovation Challenge grantee BHESP, which gives adolescent girls and young women in Kenya greater control over their HIV prevention approaches, including PrEP, through public awareness campaigns, peer education, and HIV testing and counseling.

I was brought up in an era when girls were only supposed to listen, not talk. I am also the first born, so my mother expected me to take care of my seven siblings. Woe unto me if any of them made a mistake. I was punished on their behalf.

We all went to primary school in the Nairobi Eastlands. I walked to and from school every day with my girlfriends. Men often harassed us on the way. One day during a music lesson, our teacher told the class to go look for bamboo sticks to make kayambas (a musical instrument). I went in a group of four girls. We asked some men on the street where we could get the sticks, and they said, “Follow us, we can show you where to find bamboo.”

Our little minds didn’t see any danger ahead, as they took us to a deserted place where no one could see us. Then, two more men joined them, and together, they attacked and raped us. We were just 12 years old. The pain ate me inside. Rape was very common in our area. No one got punished, and only girls were blamed for it. The four of us never talked about it to anyone—not even amongst ourselves.

So many years have passed now but, still, every time I hear someone has been raped, I feel that pain again. And I always use my experience to advise young girls who are giving up in life, like some of the girls I work with. We offer them HIV prevention education and PrEP, but for the ones who face violence at the hands of partners, there may be fear to use the pills that keep the virus from being transmitted.

Thankfully, girls today do not have to suffer in silence. Working together, we can empower them and protect their rights.

 

Choosing to Stand Up
By Geraldine Kauma, Brick by Brick, Uganda

  Geraldine works with DREAMS Innovation Challenge grantee Brick by Brick, which teaches girls to construct reusable menstrual pads for personal use and income generation, and enables in-school reproductive health education .

Geraldine works with DREAMS Innovation Challenge grantee Brick by Brick, which teaches girls to construct reusable menstrual pads for personal use and income generation, and enables in-school reproductive health education.

She and I were such close friends, ever since we joined the school. Every day after class, we stayed behind and chatted a little about how the day had gone. She even introduced me to her boyfriend and told me stories about how nice he was, and how intelligent.

After a while, I noticed she wasn’t as bubbly as always. She was avoiding people and staying in her room to sleep, whenever she had free time. Exams were fast approaching, and I decided to go and ask what was bothering her. After I prodded her, she broke down and told me her boyfriend had assaulted her repeatedly. She had been too afraid to say anything because he threatened her life.

When he found out that I knew, he also began threatening me. He said, “You and your friend and all the girls in your class are sluts. If you don’t keep quiet, I will tell everyone how damaged you are, and no one will want you.” He thought we would cower, but I chose to inform the authorities, and he was put in jail. Her family supported her in handling the ordeal.

After that, I knew I would stand up whenever I can, as a female who has been privileged with education and an opportunity to speak up. After university, I started working with youth on HIV prevention. I get to talk with adolescent boys and girls about the importance of health education and equal opportunity. They share many stories. One young girl talked about being overlooked because she is female. Her uncle did not want to pay her school fees. I talked to the counselors who had a session with him. He then began to support her.

Every day I strive to inspire young girls in Uganda to achieve their dreams, because I, too, was once a young girl.

 

When Silence is not Golden
By Chishimba Kasanga, Lubuto Library Partners, Zambia

  Chishimba works with Lubuto Library Partners in Zambia, whose DREAMS Innovation Challenge project uses public libraries in Zambia as a gateway for scholarships, referrals, mentorship, reproductive health programming, and community engagement .

Chishimba works with Lubuto Library Partners in Zambia, whose DREAMS Innovation Challenge project uses public libraries in Zambia as a gateway for scholarships, referrals, mentorship, reproductive health programming, and community engagement.

I was 11 years old—too young to know much about sex, but old enough to have breasts. I was at home with my baby sister and my 23-year-old cousin. My parents were at work. I was alone in my room when my cousin walked in and started fondling my breasts. I was terrified! There he was, someone I trusted and looked up to, shamelessly enjoying himself. He said, “Do not tell anyone.”

When my parents came home that evening, I was afraid of causing conflict. How could I tell them he had touched me in ways I hated? I had no witness except a three-year-old who could barely construct sentences. So I kept quiet.

It happened again the next day, this time lasting longer than before. Still, I remained silent, fearing the consequences of speaking out. I wondered, “Will anyone believe me? What if he comes back again? When will this end?”

Even though I wanted to just forget about it, I couldn’t bear the thought that my cousin might do the same thing to my sisters. I finally found the courage to tell my parents the truth. Much to my relief, they believed me. When confronted, my cousin denied everything, saying, “Why would I touch her? I am old enough to have any lady I want, so why would I wasting my time with a child?” But a year later, he finally admitted it.

Today I am committed to helping fellow survivors and bringing public attention to the realities of sexual abuse. I’m now mentoring adolescent girls and young women, helping them find inner strength to challenge and overcome abuse and discrimination. It is so important for them to feel safe speaking out so justice can be served.

 

Survivor, Not Victim
By Redempta Mwende, African Centre for Women and Information and Communication Technology, Kenya

  Redempta works with the Center’s DREAMS Innovation Challenge grant, which empowers girls and young women in Kenya with skills and opportunities to become financially independent.

Redempta works with the Center’s DREAMS Innovation Challenge grant, which empowers girls and young women in Kenya with skills and opportunities to become financially independent.

While I was drawing the curtains at the office, ready to call it a day, I heard a knock on the door and saw a young girl I knew peeking in. She was usually so full of life, but on this occasion, as she entered, the tears began flowing. I handed her some tissues. Then she told me her story.

She had gone out to a nightclub with friends to celebrate turning 18. When she felt tipsy, she wanted to leave, but her friends wanted to stay. They suggested she catch a lift with an older man they knew. She told me, “I took the risk, and it turned out to be the biggest mistake of my life.”

He invited her to spend the night at his place. Initially she hesitated, but because her parents were very strict, she was afraid to go home drunk. So she accepted. He insisted she should sleep in the bedroom, and he on the couch in the other room. In the middle of the night, suddenly he was next to her, undressing her. She said, “I asked him to stop, but he did not listen. I tried to fight him, but he was too strong. I tried to scream, but he punched me in the stomach.” He tied her hands to the headboard with his belt, and then raped her.

When she finished speaking, I hugged her, and we both wept together. I was the first person she told. She worried that people would not believe her, would blame her for what happened. I was happy to support her healing. It completely changed my attitude towards sexual violence. Today in my work, we talk to women not only about HIV prevention and STI treatment, but also about rape. These are all health issues.

Three months later, this young woman came to me and told me she had tested negative for HIV. She was lucky. She said, “I will not let one event in my life define my future. I am not a victim, I am a survivor.”

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StoryCenter Board Spotlight: Dr. Nikki Yeboah Shares Her Story

Root Barrett

In this world of big data and "hard" science, we lose sight of the power of a story. Stories have the power to move us, persuade us and most importantly, connect us to worlds and people beyond ourselves. As a theatre maker, I've been telling stories on stage for the last eight years, and teaching students to tell their stories for six. I've seen the impact it can have not just on the audience but on the storyteller as well.

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Nurstory: Stories of Nursing Practice for Social Justice

Amy Hill

The storytelling process is not one that I had explored before with this group of colleagues, and we moved through our stories together -- first by sharing them out loud, giving them our voices, and then by creating and crafting the digital stories. Our stories centered on the broad theme of social justice and yet, they were very personal, real, clear, relatable. These were smaller acts of justice given voice by a group of nurses.

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Living Journeys: The Power of Sharing Stories of Cancer Survival

Amy Hill

When a last minute cancellation created an opening, I found my role transformed from organizer to participant, requiring me to become vulnerable, too. I discovered StoryCenter’s process of guiding storytellers to find their “ah-ha” moment, as an art form. Common threads bound each unique story, and the bonds between participants were deepened.

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Publishing Digital Stories:  A Project Review and Call for Submissions

Amy Hill

The project involved reviewing and selecting a corpus of digital stories to be included in Aquifer. The purpose of the assignment was to help students understand the practice of storytelling by applying their knowledge of the seven steps of digital storytelling outlined by Joe Lambert to the solicitation and selection of digital stories; gain experience applying knowledge of major themes in Web 2.0 storytelling to the presentation of digital stories online; and critically engage with scholarly debates surrounding vernacular creativity, digital story curation, and assessment of digital storytelling in educational practice.

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StoryCenter Board Spotlight: Reflections From Nina Shapiro-Perl

Amy Hill

Such is the power of digital storytelling– to help people see and hear each other, across the social divides of social class, race, gender, sexual orientation, neighborhood, and religion. As participants and facilitators, we are opened to the lives and experiences of others. And we are made tender in the process.

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Unlocking Stories: The Work of Words Beyond Bars

Amy Hill

After a rocky start, with plenty of naysayers breathing down my neck, I piloted the Words Beyond Bars program at Limon Correctional Facility, a vast teal and purple themed concrete and razor-wired Colorado prison complex. I sat in a circle in the visiting room with my first 12 participants wedged behind tables, with a copy of Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried and a 79-cent composition book in front of them. The men exhibited empathy, wisdom and gratitude right from the start. Slightly mystified by my energy and encouragement, they shared their own stories of the burdens they carried.

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Real Women Sharing Their Stories About Gender and Gender-Based Violence in South Africa

Amy Hill

I want my story to give hope, motivate people, make women resilient, and have an impact on our society. I would love for every woman out there to recognise my story and feel that relief of, “Yes I am a woman, and I am proud.”

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StoryCenter Board Spotlight: An Interview with Walt Jacobs

Amy Hill

Editor’s Note: This week, as we kick off our annual giving campaign, we’re pleased to feature StoryCenter staff and board member Andrea Spagat’s short interview with fellow board member Walt Jacobs, Dean of the College of Social Sciences at San Jose state University. We’re spotlighting social justice themes, in the campaign, and Walt has long been a champion for the role that digital storytelling can play, in and outside of the classroom, in supporting equity, learning, and action.

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Andrea: Can you share with our readers how you were originally introduced to digital storytelling?

Walt: In early spring of 2008, I took a class on making short films. Halfway through the class, the instructor noted that my interests were more in line with digital storytelling than with traditional film making and suggested that I check out the Center for Digital Storytelling, as StoryCenter was then known. I explored the website, and decided to take a three-day workshop as a 40th birthday present to myself. That’s when I met you and Joe! [Joe Lambert, StoryCenter’s Executive Director.] I loved it from day one, and produced a digital story called “Letter to My Mother,” which thanked my mother for watching over me ever since she passed away just before my 10th birthday. Two years later I took a five-day intensive facilitator workshop, and a few years after that completed a one-day iPhone/iPad workshop. You and Joe were also the facilitators in the five-day intensive facilitator workshop, which was a wonderful experience. The one-day iPhone/iPad workshop also rocked!

Andrea: How have you integrated digital storytelling methods into your academic work?

Walt: When I took the three-day workshop in May of 2008, I was a department chair at the University of Minnesota. After returning to Minneapolis, I contacted the instructor of the short film class, who was a graduate student at the University of Minnesota. I said that we should co-teach a class on digital storytelling ASAP, and as a department chair, I could easily put it on the schedule. She agreed, and that fall we taught “Digital Storytelling in and with Communities of Color.” Along with another graduate student who was a student in the class, in 2010 we published an article about our experiences, “The Pedagogy of Digital Storytelling in the College Classroom.” In the spring of 2011, I co-taught the class again, but this time with a student who had been an undergraduate student in the 2008 class. She and I recently co-published an article about our experiences in the two classes, and beyond, “Learning and Teaching Digital Storytelling: A Student’s Journey into “Bravery Spaces.”

 Andrea: What led you to come on as a member of our board?

Walt: In 2012, Joe interviewed me and three others for the “Digital Storytelling in Higher Education” chapter in the 4th edition of his book, Digital Storytelling: Capturing Lives, Creating Community. The following year, 2013, I became a college dean, and the president of the university encouraged senior administrators to join boards of directors. I called Joe and volunteered my services to StoryCenter, since I was passionate about its work ever since my first exposure five years earlier, but he politely declined since I lived 1,800 miles away, and would rarely be able to attend meetings. In the summer of 2015, I moved to San José. I again contacted Joe, and reminded him that I was ready to join the board of directors, and this time he could not say no since I was just an hour away. In January of 2016 I moved even closer—to Oakland, which is next door to Berkeley.

Andrea: In the current political era, how do you see StoryCenter playing a role in championing stories of social justice?

Walt: StoryCenter has a crucial role to play in an era of heightened fear and paranoia. Exposure to real people’s real stories of social justice reminds us of the important voices that are increasingly being silenced as governments around the world pander to the most conservative aspects of society. Personal stories tell us that there are alternatives to a zero-sum analysis that divides the world into winner and losers. Additionally, StoryCenter’s community-based work fosters collective action by physically bringing together diverse casts of people to share stories and learn from each other.

Andrea: Anything else you'd like to add?

Walt: Two things. First, you should organize a reunion of my intensive facilitator workshop class, Andrea. Many of us are now Facebook friends. That’s nice, but an in-person gathering would be amazing. Second, for those readers who don’t know it, in the spring of 2018 StoryCenter will celebrate its 25th anniversary. I look forward to StoryCenter’s next 25 years!

 

 

Border Countries

Amy Hill

I was fed a steady diet of stories as a child, and I became them. Many were about my mother’s childhood. She emigrated from Liverpool, England in the sixties and married an American, so daughter of an immigrant has always been one of the ways I defined myself. Like her, I talked funny, held a fork differently, and felt like a stranger.

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Sharing Stories of the Counterculture in the Southwest

Amy Hill

Why do people tell stories? My most immediate response would be that stories connect us to each other. A good story lets a listener dive into another place and time. A good story also links a teller and a listener together by inviting that listener to imagine. The great thing about stories is that they don’t live in a vacuum. Listeners are able to imagine because they pull from their own memories and histories. This is why stories are so meaningful, because the voices of storytellers recounting a lived experience remind us all that our paths through time are the threads that weave the complex tapestry called history.

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#justB: Real People Sharing Their Stories of Hepatitis B

Amy Hill

We sat around a table, shared our stories, comforted each other, and got it out in the open. We talked about our own naked truth -- stuff that some people in society could care less about, until it happens to them. The best part is, I met people like me who have hepatitis B or knew someone who had it.

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Digital Storytelling, Or Why Technology Has Ruined Everything

Amy Hill

Anxiety about technology has a long-documented history. Plato thought the act of writing was a step backward for truth. Martin Luther decried the first bound books. Leo Tolstoy criticized the printing press. The New York Times claimed that the telephone would turn us into transparent heaps of jelly. The radio was a menace; the cinema was a fad; the computer had no market; and the television was nothing more than a plywood box. The backlash is persistent.

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Stories of Climate and Health in Oregon

Amy Hill

During the workshop, participants were able to use the space to talk about complex issues, and through that process, they felt heard and connected to one another. Likewise, during the community story screening, the storytellers showed a strong sense of pride in their videos and participated with other community members in enthusiastic discussions about actions and next steps in climate and health activism.

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