Personal storytelling is one of the best ways to connect with people. If you’re advocating for social change, it’s hard to beat.
Last year Alex and I had the honour of working with the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre to deliver a series of workshops for their Advocacy and Power Program. The aim of the program was to reclaim the conversation around refugees so they can speak for themselves, rather than have the media and the government control the debate. In the words of Fadak Alfayad, ‘This is my story and no-one can take that from me’.
Effective advocacy asks that you tell your story in a clear and concise way, so we began by helping the participants sharpen their stories to make them as real and compelling as the experiences themselves. We did this via a series of audio stories with photographs. We asked each of the participants to tell their stories in just a few minutes, to illustrate the difference between plot and theme.
Conversations like these need to be approached with great care and sensitivity because the risk of being re-traumatised is very real. We were grateful for the support and guidance of the remarkable Ahmad Hakim, APP Coordinator for the ASRC, who sat with us and helped steer us through this delicate process. The participants were amazing. Some struggled with memories that were still fresh, but pushed on. A few could not speak at all, such were their experiences. Others were happy to share their stories but could not put their names or faces to them because ‘speaking out’ would compromise their visa conditions. Yet all of the participants had chosen to do just that; to speak out in whatever way they are able, to advocate for those who remain locked up on Manus Island, on Nauru and in Australia.
We discussed the ways in which a focussed interview technique and narrative structure allows you to reduce vast amounts of life experience into a cohesive and engaging story. So while our interview questions were designed to be concise and well directed, they were also intended to bring out the details of their lives - what their homes and families were like, the colours of the countryside, the feel of seasons - things that remind us of our shared humanity. We talked about how to take a great photograph and how to use them to reinforce the messages in their audio stories.
By the end of the workshops each of the participants’ experiences and achievements had been re-affirmed. They were reminded that their accounts were more than just a series of events that had happened to them, they were uplifting examples of human strength, dignity, resilience and courage.
For Alex and I, who were honoured to have their trust and to be able to listen to their stories and edit them into something they were proud of, it was a transformative experience. We came away with enormous admiration for each of them and a deeper understanding of the challenges faced by people seeking asylum. We still feel a strong connection to each of them. In different ways we all came away transformed, and that is what good storytelling does. It transports and transforms you and changes the world a little bit at a time.
Click through to listen to some of the stories that came out of the workshop:
To see examples of the great advocacy work being done by Akuol and Sayad, along with the other participants, click here: