Stories no longer un-heard and un-told…

Payal Saksena

Digital storytelling (DST) has been used in the past in some streams such as counselling and education as a creative medium for enhancing expression, experimentation, explorations into stories of harm, healing and hope. DST is also an exploration of how digital mediums can be used for empowering people in sharing their personal stories and also how this can be linked to achieving larger social change. Family for Every Child’s focus on children and families propelled us to introduce this tool to our work and build on the strength of our members to engage with children on their experiences within their families in varied socio-cultural-political contexts.

Early this year (2014) we got eight members on board to become involved in, take ownership of and implement a global DST initiative. In our DST work, the process of empowerment and learning will also occur at the organisational level, in providing our members with insights into the role and nature of family in their own context, strengthening their work to support children and families. Working with eight members provides opportunities for exchange of experiences and insights on these issues. We also have the aim of gaining understanding of family in order to feed into our conceptual framework which is the foundation for our work on policy development, also, as an important tool for communication and advocacy on significance of families and lastly promoting effective child participation.

As a first phase of the DST initiative which would end in early 2015, a workshop training DST facilitators was organised in early July for seven members, with the support member organisation Partnership for Every Child (P4ec) in Russia. This took months of planning and coordinating given the challenges to acquire visas, manage long journeys and putting workshop logistics in place. The members involved were: Hope Village Society in Egypt; ChildLink in Guyana; Undugu Society in Kenya; Butterflies in India; JUCONI in Mexico; CINDI in South Africa; P4EvC in Russia. ABTH, our member in Brazil, will have a separate digital story telling training in Portuguese in September 2014 in Brazil. P4ec had already taken part in a DST training in July 2013 with the Participate initiative in Nigeria and have used the technique to explore the perspectives of children in institutional care – the films that P4ec have produced will be shown at an exhibition to coincide with the UN general assembly meetings in Sept, 2014.

The workshop began and we met with the facilitator Joanna Wheeler, who had come from South Africa to help us learn about digital storytelling – the skills and technology involved, and how to apply this to our work on children and strengthening families. The question ‘Tell us a time about when you felt like you were part of a family or not part of a family‘ was used as a prompt for the five day learning process.

The workshop was an intensive, emotional and yet an exciting process. We began by having brainstorming sessions on: What makes a good story; understanding the story arc which focuses on the beginning, the high-point in the story and then moves to the conclusion. We shared our stories in the story circle, a circular seating arrangement and declared safe-space for all participants to share and listen to each other’s personal stories. All stories had to be true and on focus on our feelings rather than stories of what, how, when! This safe space the story circle – we were to realise would be the space where we would share our probably never-heard stories, some of them on abuse, deprived love to some on caring, love and how families bound us together with their presence and scattered us in their absence! The process further deepened to learning about freestyle writing and then onto writing scripts; drawing, painting our images to amplify our stories, and then learning the technology. We learnt all the nuances, the details, the software applications on iPads and web which would help us in creating that beautiful story of how we felt as a part of our families. Each member received two iPads and other tools and material required for facilitating their own local processes within the global initiative.

We made 14 stories, most of which we can share and we all felt we now have the skills to support children and families to make their own stories. Everyone worked incredibly hard (with a number of late nights!) and it was emotionally draining as people were sharing very significant moments in their lives. The facilitation was really important in supporting this: Joanna, as lead-facilitator, knowledgable, encouraging and extremely patient in her approach; and Emily from Family, as process watcher, documenter and timely insights-giver. We ended up with some great three minute films, and a much better understanding of what the process entails, importantly, this included managing risks and ethics while consulting children for this process, which became much clearer.

What happens now? We are taking digital storytelling into the lives of the children and families we work with, engaging them in the process of social change in their own contexts and better understanding children’s experiences inside and outside families. We hope this will lead to greater impact in their lives.  We are aiming for about 40 stories from children for now but hope to aspire for 100s more in the not so far a future so that there are no longer un-heard and un-told stories for the children and families whose voices need to be heard to the most. 

Payal Saksena, Research and Advocacy Officer with Family for Every Child, was a participant in the Digital story telling workshop in June, 2014 and has her own story titled “White Memories”.