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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.

Filtering by Category: Storyteller Reflections

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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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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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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#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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Nothing About Us Without Us. Ever.

Amy Hill

Colorado’s Medicaid Buy-In provides healthcare to 6,000 working, tax-paying adults. If the American Health Care Act is passed, the state’s Medicaid program will lose $340 million in the first year, and my friends and neighbors may be forced to move away from the communities they’ve built and into nursing homes, in order to receive the support they need.

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Social Justice Blog Series: An Interview with Becca Garcia, Creator of, “I Am Enough”

Root Barrett

It wasn’t until the Project SURVIVE storytelling workshop at StoryCenter that I was able to openly and honestly talk about what had happened. I feel that there are a lot of people who have experienced something similar to what I went gone through, and I just couldn’t be silent anymore. I didn’t want this to have power over my life any longer!

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Storyteller Reflection: Young Women Participants From Our Community College Initiative Project

Root Barrett

I witnessed my own evolution, from the insecure photographer to the confident one. I saw how the chains from within were holding me back, and when other doors opened, I walked right in. I have a story, and it is being told. I really hope all women can hear it. I hope they will be braver to be what they want to be.

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Finding My Identity as an Afghan-American

Root Barrett

When I was in kindergarten, I remember befriending other first or second-generation American children, who like me, were silently confused. Imagine being surrounded by kids your age and a teacher who doesn’t speak your language and doesn’t know your culture. Some days, I came home in tears, grieving for the challenge my parents had presented to me– an American birth and an Afghan background.

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How a Restaurant in Kabul Empowers Survivors of Violence Against Women

Root Barrett

Bost Restaurant is a social enterprise owned and managed by Afghan women. The woman who founded it, Mary Akrami, is a longtime advocate for women’s rights, and the wait staff are survivors of gender-based violence. 

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My Mother Makes Me Proud to Be an Afghan Woman

Root Barrett

On the occasion of International Women’s Day, I’ve been thinking a lot about the women who inspire and empower me. The one woman who has always made me proud to be an Afghan woman is my mother, and this childhood memory illustrates exactly why.

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Storyteller Reflection: The Story Never Ends

Root Barrett

I went to my first StoryCenter digital storytelling workshop in August of 2014, at the old Lighthouse Writers Building in Denver. It was a summer I will not soon forget. I’d just learned of my sister’s diagnosis of stage four lung cancer, the same disease that had claimed my mother’s life barely a year before. 

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The (somewhat uncomfortable) Process of Digital Storytelling, and Teachable Moments

Root Barrett

No big deal, I thought. As a historian, I pretty much write and tell stories for a living.

But then the story specialists at StoryCenter taught the other institute participants and I *how* to write a script for digital storytelling, and I began eyeing the door. Not because it was too big or difficult, but because it was so small and succinct. How was I going to tell a full story worth hearing in fewer than 250 words? I've probably written longer sentences than that!

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Sharing My Story – by Tracy Reed Foster

Root Barrett

Sharing my story at the Transitions Clinic Network digital storytelling workshop last spring was an awesome experience. I didn’t know what to expect when I was asked to participate. I was nervous, and yet I knew this was something I needed to do.

The Story Circle became serious very fast, and empathy was shown very quickly. We all were able to share parts of ourselves and trust that we had to bond and hold each other up, pull each other through, and then choose to become connected. I have met friends for life. Even if I don’t see my storytelling family daily, I know they are there. Yes, I did call them family, because they loved me through my sharing. They embraced me when I talked about my story and revealed parts of me that not even my own relatives know, and as I write this, I smile warmly because I feel really good about my storytelling family. This magnificent process brought me back to a time when I thought I was weak, yet I was strong and managed to endure. As I told my story, what seemed to be tears of sadness became gladness. I understood that if I had not gone through what I talked about in my story, I would not be sitting here today!

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Black History Month: Stories and Storyteller Reflections

Root Barrett

February is Black History Month, and we couldn't imagine a better way to celebrate and honor it than by sharing some incredible stories from our All Together Now project on civil and human rights. With great admiration and appreciation for all the stories and storytellers in the project, we have selected a few stories to share with you here. 

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