During 2008 Dorian co-ordinated a UNICEF project - training rural caregivers in story-telling and story-listening as part of their psycho-social skills development. These caregivers in turn touched the lives of children affected by HIV/AIDS. The programme involved workshops, field visits and mentoring. Storywell used creative and imaginative activities that prompted stories… e.g. making masks, binding objects from nature to create ‘characters’, playing with clay, drawing or painting on a paper plate, cutting out collages, collecting waste to make musical instruments. The Storywell team worked with Simunye (Mpumulanga) and ChrisTanna (Northern Cape)
everyone has a well of stories to draw from
we can all story well – i.e. tell stories to engages listeners
telling and listening to stories helps us to heal and be well
•listening skills through various creative activities •skills of narration and communication •questioning skills to help the storyteller become clearer •an understanding of story forms - archetypes in story, story structure •rituals to celebrate, to honour, to grieve, to affirm
Stories that instruct, renew, and heal provide a vital nourishment to the psyche that cannot be obtained any other way. Stories reveal over and over again the precious and peculiar knack that humans have for triumph over travail. They provide all the vital instructions to live a useful, necessary and unbounded life – a life of meaning, a life worth remembering. (Clarissa Pinkola Estes)
Caregiver Responses to the Storywell Programme 2008
- I have learned that stories are powerful. You can hide the positive in your heart and take it out when you are scared or broken-hearted. Stories give you a way of talking about your problems.
- Children who have been through a story telling programme are better able to verbalise and are more positive.
- I learned to listen and that stories can heal me.
- It created a self-image for me. Before the course I thought nothing of myself. Now I can talk to anyone – I can do what I dream of.
- Stories made me feel hope again and helped me to see I can also do something with my life. I can mean a lot to my community.
- I was empty. My soul was ill, I didn’t want to forgive. Now I feel full and healthy.
Fellow Storywellers are Elma Pollard, Philiipa Kabali-KLagwa, and Toto Gzxabela
The Storywell programme can be adapted to 1001 situations
The Story Rope:
Story telling, Ritual and Healing in a Namibian Youth Group
A Rope of Words
"Let's take hold of the rope."
I am in a workshop with twenty three teenagers. A long rope links us as we sit in a circle. Whenever I tell stories, we all hold on to the 'story rope' - a symbol of our being bound together in ritual space. For story-telling has to do with ritual and community.
We are in a Namibian coastal town, Walvis Bay, along the south western coast of Africa. These teenagers are from a Place of Safety in nearby Swakopmund and from Walvis Bay's townships. My friend, Petro, a Social Worker with a deep intuition about youth, has gathered these twelve to fourteen year olds. Some of them are AIDS orphans. One had been raped by an uncle. A few have been living partly at home, and partly on the streets.
In 2004 the Swiss Carl Schlettwein Foundation which focuses on Namibia, granted me support to work with these teenagers. The nature of the work? To encourage the use of story-telling as a creative way of coping with problems, and where appropriate, develop writing skills. So I flew up from Cape Town (a thousand miles away) where I now live. It was good to be there - my second home. I worked in Namibia for twenty years.
A Story Workshop in Three Stages
This was a series of three workshops. Each covered three stages as we worked in a cyclic pattern.
I told fictional stories to develop a sense of story structure
One story I shared was The Old Woman and the Pot. Then I showed the group how many stories rests on four movements - a model common to fairy tales. Here it is in an abbreviated form:
A: A woman looks after a beautiful pot. She dusts it every day. People admire it.
B: A mighty wind blows the pot from its stand and it is shattered.
C: The woman grieves then collects the pieces. She begins to glue the pot together.
D: She reassembles the pot and places it with all its cracks on the stand. People admire it.
This is William Blake's journey from innocence to experience. The four stages in this story can be compared to:
A: Paradise (all is right with the world. I call this part the womb)
B: The fall (brokenness enters the world. This is the wound )
C: The journey to recover what has been lost. (The wandering and the work)
D: Restoring what has been broken/destroyed.(The wonder and the wholeness)
This model suggests that when something happens to us (B) we have a choice (C) as to how we will respond. Victor Frankl in his Man's Search for Meaning suggests,
"The greatest freedom I have, is the freedom to choose how I will respond to a given set of circumstances."
I encouraged the teenagers to begin to make up fictional stories using props and prompts. We cut out collages, sticking magazine pictures onto sheets of paper. Anything they could use for a story. Then I handed each one a long thread of cotton and sent them outside to collect natural objects. They created dolls and animals out of straw, sticks, leaves, stones, bound together with the cotton thread. These became characters in their stories. We inserted these into the four movement story pattern.
After being told stories and constructing their own, it was time for the group to work with their own lives. To insert life stories (life fictions) into these patterns. The participants shared personal memories, so beginning the process of seeing their lives as a story. The group created non-dominant hand drawings of a childhood memory.
As Jean-Paul Sartre suggests, "A man (woman) is always a teller of tales, he lives surrounded by his stories and the stories of others, he sees everything that happens to him through them; and he tries to live his own life as if he were telling a story." If my life is a story, then I can activate choice. We can choose how we want the story to continue.
The teenagers began to draw on long-lost creativity. This third stage of the workshop needed more time. Perhaps the sense of our lives as being worthy of a story needs time to make its home in us.
Response of participants
How do we measure the impact of a story? Their faces and feet told me. All the teenagers returned for all three workshops. I presume this was not only because they were given bread rolls at lunchtime (sponsored by the Foundation).
As the workshop progressed, the teenagers picked up the rope when they wanted a story.
In the closing moments, I cut the rope and gave each teenager a piece to take with them. I asked them, "Will you take out the rope whenever you feel lost or are in trouble? Remember the stories that we have told and the work that we have done." As I cut the rope, it split into various strands. "Each strand is a story."
A Personal Response
Working with these teenagers has increased my passion and understanding of story. This is in line with the discipline of narrative therapy - that we construct our identity through the stories we choose to tell about ourselves. I believe in the power of stories to reach across cultures and to establish meaning. Stories form a language beneath our other languages. They place authority in the heart of the listener. Stories educate our desires and help us locate ourselves in time and place. The story rope holds us and binds us. And as we follow its treads, we find our way home.
Writing the Stories:
The AIDS experience of Children
In 2004/5 Dorian was involved in a KwaZulu Natal project which encouraged children to write their stories and experience around AIDS. Some 60 of these stories were published under the title I Got the Message in 2005 by MIET (Media in Education) Press, Durban. The book was distributed into pilot schools.
The project was a collaboration between the Department of Education and Culture in KwaZulu Natal , Hivan (AIDS networking and research unit at the university of KwaZulu-Natal) and Dorian. He worked in KwaZulu Natal with fifty teachers from fourteen schools, passing on writing skills. The teachers in turn passed these writing skills on to their children who wrote the stories. Dorian also taught the teachers editing skills so they could make a selection. The Hivan head of the project, Jill Kruger, and Dorian made the final selection and edited the book
During 2006 the Carl Schlettwein Foundation in Basel, Switzerland is supporting a similar project with Namibian teachers and children.