The ‘Our Story, Your Story’ Project

All About This Storytelling Initiative

Clowns Without Borders South Africa (CWBSA), an artist-led humanitarian organisation, arrived in George (South Africa) in early May 2017 to facilitate the final component of their ‘Our Story, Your Story’ (OSYS) project in local Primary Schools and Libraries. This project was first implemented in Cape Town in 2014, with an aim to increase community cohesion, cultural diversity, and personal empowerment by offering participants across racial, gender, religious and generational lines a platform to share their life stories. This year, in partnership with The Seven Passes Initiative, ‘Our Story, Your Story’ (OSYS) has ventured outside of Cape Town for the first time, to the Southern Cape community of Touwsranten, to implement a series of storytelling workshops for various beneficiaries, including youth facilitators, senior citizens, school educators and learners.

The Clowns Without Borders South Africa (CWBSA) team has been busy delivering training sessions in the area intermittently over the past few months. Alongside these, intercultural workshops have run with the residents of Touwsranten and Hoekwil (click here for a flavour of the tales shared at these intercultural sessions).

The final element of the project saw facilitators visiting nine local schools, delivering interactive sessions to young learners and their educators. These workshops were presented by four young facilitators from The Seven Passes Initiative, who had been provided training and coaching in both storytelling and facilitation skills. These young facilitators captivated the school children by sharing songs, laughs, and stories around an imaginary fireplace that had been ‘created’ by the whole class. An hour was then dedicated to talking, listening to and sharing narratives with each other (click here to hear snippets of the stories and songs presented by the young facilitators). After being inspired by the personal stories of the facilitators, and with a little help from some magical ‘story dust’, the young learners were given the opportunity to think about their own life narrative and experiences.

Having been encouraged to step up to the front to share their stories, many brave volunteers took the plunge and spoke in front of all their peers. Teachers commented on their surprise at seeing children, who were usually very shy, standing up and sharing their life experiences with increased self-esteem and confidence. Reflecting on what they could all learn from the various stories, the classes were observed gaining a deeper perspective on the day to day lives of their communities. The participants were particularly moved when listening to stories with which they could personally identify: the struggles and successes of their classmates, and maybe even a new fun fact they had not heard before (click here to learn more about what the students gained from the project).

It is important to note that the project did not only achieve success in mainstream schools – it also saw the delivery of well-received workshops for learners with special educational needs (click here to learn more about the SEN sessions).

In addition to the direct engagement with young learners, the ‘Our Story, Your Story’ (OSYS) project trained 100 local educators, with the intention of helping them to integrate creative arts education into the school curriculum. Educators taking part in the workshops witnessed how storytelling can be utilised as a medium for personal development, whilst increasing young people’s engagement in class by creating a cohesive and creative school environment. Mr Irvin-John Scheepers, Principal at Heidedal Primary School, stated that he would recommend other schools implement storytelling activities because of the many benefits and results he had already seen in the classroom. He emphasised that the project, “helps the learners to open up […] Sometimes we need to speak up to better our own circumstances.” Teachers also recognised that a storytelling methodology could offer great assistance to the oral and written performance of their learners. Mr Wilbur James Pedro, Principal at Hibernia VGK Primary School, stressed that “storytelling can form part of motivating learners to take up reading books.” (click here to learn more about teachers’ responses to the project here).

The workshops powerfully demonstrated to all involved how the art of storytelling and oral histories can aid literacy development, as well as social and emotional learning. Sharing personal stories allowed the participants to make connections between themselves and others, remember important life events, and develop both confidence and self-awareness. It has the potential to offer a powerful medium of validation for those who share their tales, and can also act as a means of healing on both an individual and community level. Clowns Without Borders South Africa (CWBSA) hopes to grow on the success of this current project and to work with even more local participants around the George area in the future (click here to read more about the reflections of the project team and young facilitators).

© Dialogue Community Performance / Clowns Without Borders South Africa

An edited version of this article appeared in the George Herald on Thursday, 11th May, 2017.