18 June, 2014

Storytelling fights hate speech!

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Category: European Action Day, Refugees' stories
Ruxandra Pandea
8 am

This post was written by Matia Losego, a youth worker and human rights activists based in Portugal and working with Dinamo.matia

 

 

Do you tell stories? Sure you do, every day since you can talk [or even before!]. The majority of our conversations are narratives and stories such as ‘today I did…and then my friend arrives wearing a great t-shirt and…’ From this natural process to beceadbanner_signatureome a storyteller the step is very clear: you just need to find a purpose to tell stories.

I’m a youth worker in a local youth NGO active on youth participation, especially with vulnerable groups of young people and, during my university years, I got the opportunity to give my contribution as a social worker in a refugees and asylum seekers centre in Portugal. I am also a professional storyteller with children and adults working in public libraries and cultural events, in Portugal and Italy, aiming at promoting reading and the collective memory of our communities. As a storyteller, I work a bit in ‘the old school way’, with a book in my hands or without it, with my voice and my body and, of course, with other people around me [however in the past years some very nice examples of digital storytelling started up and they deserve a look as well]. When youth work and storytelling intersect the purpose of telling a story becomes fighting discrimination and promoting tolerance and respect. And it is a great experience!

When we talk about stories, we cannot consider just our traditional fairy tales heritages, such as the Cinderella or Little Red Riding Hood, but also the great new production of illustrated albums [they say ‘children’s album’, but we, adults, like them as well], both with or without texts, like ‘Los de Arriba y Los de Bajo’ by Paloma Valdivia or Migrando by Mariana Chiesa Mateos [working with refugees, these sources can also be useful to support the process of discovering a new language]. Also authors’ stories or life stories, told without books, can be used, depending on the storyteller skills and the audience preferences.

By the way, stories move as people, or better, with people. Just think about the origins of the very European Cinderella: some say it came from East Asia. This can explain the issue with small feet of Cinderella and the envy of the evil sisters. The distance between our stories is sometimes little more than perspective.

The biggest impact I got from my direct contact with refugees and asylum seekers is their resilience in dealing every day with a very complex situation, including emotional, legal, familiar and personal aspects. In this scenario, and for my short experience, the simple act of taking 10 minutes to tell a story, no matter of which kind, contributes in many different ways to overcome these situations. Telling stories provides an enjoyable moment shared with other people and create bridges among cultures, both to show to refugees the culture of their new country as well as to recognize and valorise their own cultures, contributing to remark that they are not only asylum seekers, but people who can contribute to their new communities and who can change attitudes. Besides this, working with stories, with their structure and language, can provide refugees with tools to process their life experiences and get through them.

In several countries, refugees are often seen as people that appear only on the 20h00 TV news coming from a faraway country and asking for everything. Hate speech and discrimination find a fruitful space to grown when the victims are far away from the oppressors and when they cannot fight back. Storytelling, seen as the moment of sharing stories, is one way, maybe one of the most powerful, to shorten this distance and to start knowing other people, even if it happens just by the sharing stories and cultures.

Take some minutes of your time, close the computer and call other people. Tell them a story and ask for more. Fight against hate speech can start with ‘once upon a time…’


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