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The healing power of stories

Reading and telling stories are important activities that encourage children to develop their imaginations,  excellent memories and increase their vocabularies. As part of our broader ‘Story Power’ campaign, we embarked on a two-day programme of  ‘Healing through Stories’ workshops designed to use stories – written, told and read – to help children to make sense of their hardships, in a fun environment where play and creativity is encouraged.

In April 2015, we partnered with the Nelson Mandela Children’s Hospital Trust, which is raising funds and awareness for the Nelson Mandela Children’s Hospital, due to open in 2016. The hospital will serve as a healing space for children where they can get world-class, highly specialised care.

To also help make the hospital a welcoming space that will appeal to children, we jumped at the chance to use our ‘Healing through Power’ workshops to bring out the creativity in children to create artworks for the interior design of the building, including signage.

Sixty children between the ages of 4 and 12 years old were reached through three workshops held in Johannesburg. Our team of facilitators worked with the following organisations: Funanani – a charitable trust in Soshanguve, Pretoria that focuses on Early Childhood Development care and support, the 3-to-6 holiday programme at Sacred Heart College, which is an afterschool programme that provides space and support to over 150 refugee children in the Yeoville, Bellevue, Berea and Hillbrow area, and Leicester Road Primary School in Kensington.

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Story as Experience

Each day our lives become stories in action. It was a beautiful and joyful experience to see this reflected in each and every one of the children at the workshops. From the moment we ‘checked in’ with them to the moment we came back in a big circle to ‘check out’, we could see how they became transformed from shy, uncertain children to writers and readers overcome with the power of their imaginations.

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It was particularly poignant because not only did the children represent different age groups, but they also were a real piece of the South African landscape from different backgrounds and languages. Through the stories – we delved into 'The boy and the drum', 'The king of the birds' and 'The tortoise finds his home' –  they all connected, dealing with the themes of love, support, healing and care. It was also heart-warming to see them disappear for a while into the Nal’ibali supplement and the stories they carried.

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Their writing and their art creations revealed real passion and showed the benefits of letting children engage in stories and storytelling through simple materials like pen and paper, clay and old magazines. There are many ways to interact with stories. The healing ability of stories cannot be emphasised enough, especially for some of the children we worked with who had real issues to contend with and are unable to simply share in the joy of childhood. We were able to create beautiful artefacts to inspire the design of a future healing space, write beautifully illustrated narratives and show that stories can be used to overcome challenges and this can be communicated in innocent moments of play.


If you'd like to read more about how to use stories to help children heal, click here.

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