29 June 2012

Once upon a time...how can telling a story make enough impact to cause positive change? Is the cost too high for the story teller?

I grew up hearing stories from my grandmother and next door neighbour, Aunty Bunny, who taught me many of the key lessons in life – about values and what was important in life; priorities and key decisions; love and gender roles.  My father also make up amazing multi-part stories to entertain me on weekend mornings whilst my mother had a lie in.

As I have got older, I have become the story teller – recounting my experiences in aid work since 2001; lessons and wisdom I want to pass onto my 8 God children; anecdotes I use to teach leadership or capacity building in the UK or Africa.  On a trip to Nigeria in 2010, I knew my 2 novels were not going to last my whole trip, so I decided to write my life story and filled up a couple of exercise books with memories of the last nearly five decades.  Who knows, maybe one day they may even been published!

On a recent course, I was asked to share my ‘story’ and realised I have a number of versions!  There’s the 3 minute story ‘What was life like when I grew up?  What happened of significance?  What is life like now?’.  Or the 2 hour version – with or without edits!  I realise we all tailor ‘our story’ to the needs and expectations of the audience.

I recently read some very good guidelines on how to use stories to be aware of the history of the story teller, and to ensure they are used ethically – being both positive for the teller and the audience. 

In the light of this, and my interest in stories, I was given a recent article in the Daily Nation  on a mother and daughter coming to terms with sexual violence, and wonder if the smiling face is quite the image with which they, or we, are comfortable as we read their story?  Similarly, the image of FGM in Egypt in 1995 contained in this blog  caused a media outcry and influenced the change in banning FGM inEgypt in 2007.  Was the image right to use?  Did the end justify the means?  Read the blog and make up your own mind.

 We will be sharing some more stories from our work in the weeks to come, ensuring they are anonymised when the author wishes this, to protect the storyteller whilst accepting that most survivors are often happy, even keen, to share their stories to help change the world for a better place.  Help us do the same, by learning from these experiences; passing on stories; joining our campaign or donating to our work.