7 years ago, I was invited by Dorian Haarhoff to facilitate a workshop on using storytelling for development for a People to People Ambassadors group from the United States. It was at the Centre for the Book next to the Company Gardens in Cape Town. This led to a collaboration (between Dorian, Elma Pollard, Toto Gxabela and I) a few years later on a project for UNICEF that we called Storywell. In this project we developed a programme for Caregivers of orphans and vulnerable children in the Northern Cape and Mpumalanga provinces on the use of stories and creative process to provide psycho-social support to each other and to the children in their care. The Storywell concept grew out of a belief that
- everyone has a well of stories inside them that they can draw from
- we can all story well – i.e. tell stories in a way that engages the listeners
- telling and listening to stories helps us to heal and be well
We continue to do Storywell work, individually, in various ways, although we do not always call it Storywell. I continue to work with the concepts and understanding in coaching, in my leadership development work, and working with change in organisations. It also underpins the Bodaciously me…! networking events that I organise for women in some ways.
Well, today Dorian and I worked together again, after 3 years (during which I focused more on birthing and looking after the unexpected gift of a child, just as I was getting ready for an empty nest – but that is a story for another time). Again it was at the Centre for the Book, where we met 7 years ago, and this time we were working with delegates to the Global Alliance Summit for Ministries and Departments of Peace. Dorian was doing a two-day pre-conference training on the use of storytelling for peace building, and I was the guest storyteller. My role was to give them experience of the power of storytelling and story-listening. I shared personal stories, in poems, and a few folktales – and this led to an unexpected conversation on ways in which one uses stories.
One of the most interesting insights for me was the conversation we had about endings – not all stories end with ‘they lived happily ever after’ but all powerful and strong stories end with a sense of hope. This is an important understanding that one needs to carry when using stories for development work. Hope might mean that the protagonist is remorseful, or maybe the rains have come again, or as in the Nama story about !Urisib, where even though the original verdant land is not restored, once a year the flowers come back to Namaqualand and the people can enjoy them. Storywell for Peacebuilding – potentially powerful processes!!!