“Storytelling is the most powerful way to put ideas into the world today”
By Megan Porter
When I began my volunteer journey with SERVE last year, it was because a past volunteer was always hounding me with stories. Telling me about the amazing people she met in Freedom Park, how the work they were doing was changing people’s lives and how it tied into wider issues of development. She brought it to life; describing the people and places with such familiarity and zest that it made me curious.
When she brought me along to the Open Evening I found it to be filled with yet more stories, being told with knowledge and passion. My training days were filled with practical help, interspersed with tales of personal experience and discussion around issues of global development. Since completing my work placement in Mozambique I have found myself telling these stories, and only recently have I realised how important sharing them actually is.
You see during my training days with SERVE they repeated the idea that we have our biggest impact when we come home. Initially this struck me as strange. What impact was I going to have when I was thousands of miles away from our partner organisation, just going about my normal life?
It has only recently occurred to me how true the above statement actually is. Since returning home I have spoken to anyone who will listen, from my friends and family, to work colleagues and indeed perfect strangers at my local gym about my experiences. I spoke to them about development issues and Millennium Development Goals by using what had first drawn me in; stories. Explaining the need for better youth employment schemes and technical training by telling the stories of Ines from the construction class in Beira. She was just completing her second construction qualification at Young Africa and we got to meet her mother and daughter as she graduated. I tell them about how young women specifically need to be given an education and the chance to pursue a career because it will allow them a level of independence. I tell everyone about Carmen who studied mechanics with ambitions to head off to university before she chooses to settle down with a family, and I always emphasise that her education will have empowered her to make these choices. Finally I tell them about the power of ambition. About how the passion of a few individuals can start a programme which has empowered thousands of young people, and continues to both do so. The characters in that story are Dorien who I had the pleasure of meeting, and Raj who founded Young Africa and have pushed it forward. I tell them about the diverse staff who knew the centres and students better than anyone; from Constance the secretary in Dondo who loved to read the classics, to life skills teacher Ilda, probably the most glamorous woman I have ever met.
Annette Simmons hit the proverbial nail on the head when she noted that “If you wish to influence an individual or a group to embrace a particular value in their daily lives, tell them a compelling story.” Sharing what I have learnt through my placement, training days and post placement research and discussions has been a huge part of my volunteering experience and I urge you all to make it a part of yours. There is no power like the power of a story (we have been telling them in one way or another since time began), and that is why I believe that it is a perfect way for individuals (volunteers or otherwise) to get those around them to consider the world around them and how our actions have a direct and indirect impact on people around the world.
By sharing our experiences honestly, passionately and respectfully (ideas which go hand in hand with Dochas) we can not only inform others, but perhaps kindle an interest and passion that previously lay dormant; and I truly believe that this is where we can have our biggest impact on others.