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Our Story, Your Story: Finding meaning

Lisa Cohen is a storyteller, facilitator, children’s story author, programme developer, early childhood development advocate and creativity sparker. She is currently the Portfolio Manager of Parenting Programmes at Ilifa Labantwana and Programme Manager for the Our Story, Your Story Project with Clowns Without Borders South Africa. Lisa speaks about her own journey with stories and its personal and political meaning:

Story-time with my dad was my favourite time growing up. My brothers and I would snuggle up next to him in anticipation of his next tale. It didn’t matter what he read or told us, just as long as the key ingredient remained the same: the privilege of his undivided attention for those five to ten precious minutes.

Little did my father, or any of us know that much later my work would become about harnessing the power of intergenerational storytelling. You see, through the sharing of and listening to stories from the heart, we begin to really see each other. A kinder, clearer seeing that is more personal, more human and more meaningful.

This type of exchange offers the possibility for elders to connect to younger generations; the chance to affect early and lifelong learning and the potential to advocate together for change in a natural and powerful way. I use storytelling as a technique in a community projects aimed at building bridges within and between South African communities.

For example, in the Our Story, Your Story project, young people in communities are invited to share the stories of their upbringing. These are stories of growing up in post-apartheid South Africa and are tinged with the consequences of a violent and unjust political system, while the seniors share stories about their own coming of age entrenched in this system. Many young people have only heard impersonal accounts of The Struggle in history books or in the media with neat reference to the dates, the laws and political heroes. Through the storytelling process, the young participants are able to hear the stories of ‘back then’ – how people from their communities lived, loved, worked, wished, sang and sewed.

This allows seniors to take their true place as elders in the community while educating about apartheid and cultural heritage. The elders have also gained a wider perspective on the youth in South Africa and developed a greater compassion for them by forging individual bonds and developing an appreciation of people from a different generation.

For the youth, the experience of feeling heard by an elder has provided an opportunity for creative self-expression and an affirmative sense of identity. At a recent workshop a youth aged 22 shared, "Having elders and youth come together— it’s amazing to see us doing the same thing. I’ve never seen that. We normally do things separately and here we combine the elderly and the youth to come together. It was the first time I heard grandparents share and open their hearts."


For more writings on the art and power of stories, click here.

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