Restarting this blog with a moment of beauty

Today is not a special day. I am sitting at home. Its cold. I’ve cleaned the house and I feel depressed. I’ve lit the fire early cause it comforts me. I can’t seam to warm up. I feel overwhelmed by police shootings, racial injustice, politics in the world, the Standing Rock situation, The Okinawa situation, Syria, Australia’s treatment of refugees, local injustices (markets being taken from the community minded as they now represent profit). Too many things going wrong.

And in that large world of injustice that circles and surrounds my awareness and my family, I experienced a moment of beauty this week. So I will stop and write about that. I want to restart this blog to share a moment of beauty…

I run a weekly storytelling session at a mental health recovery centre. I go in for one hour and share folk tales, fairy tales, myths and more.

Typically this elicits a discussion about the story, the places it’s set, its country of origin, personal experience. Well – it elicits discussion and story sharing for approx. one hour. I have grown to love these sessions. I enjoy the stories and interests of people in the group, the discussions are candid and feel very real, we go beyond the niceties or politeness’s very quickly. Stories can do that.

This week an Aboriginal elder came to sit in on the session with me. We will call him Unc. He is awesome. He is a dedicated leader and worker in his community. We have interacted and worked on different projects over the years. It’s fairly safe to say I admire, respect and love him and his wife very much and the fact that he drove up here (about an hour) out of interest and support was extremely honouring.

Every person in that centre responded the same way I internally felt. Honoured. From the moment he walked in it was palpable. The energy in the room was buoyant to begin with, there had just been singing and choir participation filling the space. As soon as I began to introduce Unc one gentleman immediately took him on a tour of the centre, its facilities and program. Grabbing as much personal contact time as he could.

Next we all sat down to share stories and questions. Well not all – its not that orderly a process. Some people sat down, others joined when they sensed what was going on and that they wanted to be a part of it. Some people walked by numerous times and joined later.

The introductions lead to conversations and questions straight away. Questions and comments that seek connection, recognition of similarity. I love the way we do this as humans – “Ohh you grew up there. We camped there every summer/my mums from there/my brother lives down that way…”

Who are you? Who are we? What about all this Aboriginal people and alcohol talk? What happens after death? Do you know your stories? I have heard… I was told… Is it true… I’ve had experience of that…I know that feeling…

“How do Aboriginal people treat mental illness?”

Sometimes a question is so honest and from the heart that everyone in the room stops. This was that moment. We all stopped. If it was a movie, this was the slow-mo part.

And Unc’s answer – “Well, by doing what you’re doing here. We share stories, time together…”

We shared stories, bad jokes, we laughed, we honoured a father recently passed, and we created a space of friendship and wellbeing.

The time slipped away and we went 30 minutes overtime and could have gone longer. Some of the centre workers were able to stay and sit for a while (they are usually ridiculously busy) some of the people forgot their smoko break (small wins).

There aren’t any photos, no recordings or podcasts for me to put here. It was a moment in approximately 15 peoples lives.

I wish for a world of many of those moments where we are validated on our journey for health (individual and community).

You’re OK. Keep doing what your doing. Share stories, connect, listen.

 

Dignity for Children Foundation, Malaysia

Recently I was invited to give a workshop on storytelling skills at the Early childhood Conference at the Universiti Tun Abdul Razak in Kuala Lumpur. It was a wonderful conference and extremely interesting to learn about the education systems and the learning expectations that are place on the very young in Malaysia. As a results driven Asian nation it certainly holds many differences to Australia, some of the expectations set on the very young were quite shocking to this laid back Aussie. So it was an inspiration to encounter students and teachers willing to take on creativity as a valid method of learning and development. The teaching conference lasted for two days, the 7th and 8th of October and our warm and welcoming hosts dined and toured us visitors the entire stay of 4 days. I ate some incredible food and enjoyed touring modern and traditional architecture, markets and regions of Kuala Lumpur.

As recent work of mine, over the past few years has included refugee populations of Australia I decided that the link between Australian and Malaysian refugees is not something I can ignore. I made contact with the Harvest Centre (which became the Dignity for Children Foundation in 2010) and offered to volunteer. This was an incredibly rewarding experience. For one day I performed for a number of classrooms, I talked, learned and lunched with the staff and I taught storytelling skills in the afternoon to the teachers.

Harvest Ctr, Sentul, Malaysia

The story circle

First let me briefly describe the Dignity for Children Foundation.

It started from a ground roots need to aid urban poor – those living in shanty towns with no water, broken families, extremely poor, undernourished, high exposure to drugs and crime in their community. Not surprisingly while these kids have the right to an education in Malaysia they do not have the support or ability to continue through. Living hungry, being malnourished throughout their developing years significantly impacts their cognitive ability and concentration levels. They are unable to buy the basic essentials needed for school – uniforms, stationary etc. They have no quiet place to complete homework or study as the family home is small, crowded and often noisy/exposed or the children have other duties to fulfil like babysitting whilst the one parent works or gathering water from great distances.

It took two people from the community centre, Petrina and her husband to recognise that something needs to be done to break this cycle of poverty.

Firstly they had the ability to recognise that these kids are stuck within a poverty cycle (ie its not their fault, they are not dumb). They will drop out of school due to all the difficulties, they will be unemployed, they will have children early, they will be tempted by drugs and a life of crime. Their children will also follow this path.

How to change it?

Offer education that focuses on the whole child. They offer schooling, meals, medical care, hygiene care and therapy when necessary. They offer a safe place for the family to be, to study, learn and share. The education includes opportunities to play sport and to engage with the arts.

Harvest Ctr, Sentul, Malaysia

Girl learning through play

The Dignity for Children Foundation also supports teacher training, sporting competitions, and education (Malaysian curriculum based) for children ranging from 1 year old to 20. There is also hospitality training for those not suited to the mainstream education structures.

When the infants school began a new need was quickly realised. Amongst the urban poor of Malaysia were a different kind of poor – refugees. A refugee in Malaysia does not have the right to an education. That is, currently 16,640 children in Malaysia cannot enter the education system. Their parents do not have a right to work/earn an income and the children cannot gain an education.

The dignity for Children Foundation offers education for all, refugee, urban poor and disabled.

Harvest Ctr, Sentul, KL, Malaysia

The group hug at the end of one class. I love this moment 🙂

The Harvest Centre (the school I visited) is currently at double the classroom capacity accepting the cases that arrive at their doorstep. The administrators, teachers and directors operate from a place of pure heart and love. I was proud to be there for a day and sad to leave so many people in the face of so much need.

In the words of one volunteer at the school – the arts gives these kids an opportunity to learn about people. To learn to trust and who not to trust. Its part of a complete education, its part of what they really need in life. We want to give them the best chance.

Overall I spent one day in my life sharing with these children. I shared stories, language, smiles, hugs, laughter and small details of our histories/our stories. I am in awe of the dedication of those that see a need and an injustice and work with their heart and soul to overcome it. Thank you Kuala Lumpur and the Dignity for Children Foundation for making me appreciate my Australian life and for igniting in me the flame that burns to help another.

If you would like to volunteer time or money please go to the website; www.dignityforchildren.org

Harvest Ctr, Sentul, KL, Malaysia  Harvest Ctr, Sentul, KL, Malaysia

Working with stories with 10-13 year olds

I am often asked about how I work with stories and youth. Let me share with you one example.

The Tortoise and the Hare.

You know the story right?

I tell an African version of it that I read in Tales of an Ashanti Father, by Peggy Appiah. When I tell I use certain Ashanti (Ghana) words, which I have learned from my friend Afro Moses (www.afromoses.com) and I play the djembe or mbira in parts.

The story…

Lion, king of the jungle noticed that many of his animals were being lost to hunters and other animal predators. He gathered his animals together and talked of the loss and how he believed that unity and cooperation between them could help the situation. He then asked the animals what they thought. Many animals agreed, many did not, in particular, Hare jumped up and stated that he is fine on his own, he is fast, a good hider and does not need all this nonsense.

Well, you can imagine the animal’s reaction to a comment like that? They shouted, yelled, got animated, noisy. In the end it was Tortoise who spoke up in favour of the king. Tortoise took his time and told Hare what a fool he is to believe speed is so important, to prove his point he offers to race against Hare – much to the humour of all animals present. The race time and track are set and all animals go home with mirth in their hearts and on their lips. How could Tortoise possibly do it?

Tortoise, his family and friends do not go home to bed. They meet together and …

You know the rest. Tortoise made a plan and recruited his family and friends after a bit of resistance. They hid in strategic places along the track. They learnt a song to sing to warn the next runner that they were coming… in the end they won. Although at the end Tortoise states that it is cooperation and diligence that won.

This story raises some serious questions?

– Who won? Is it Tortoise, or all of his family and friends? Who receives the acknowledgement? Who is remembered long after the event?

-Did tortoise cheat?

Did he run the race alone? Did he challenge the Hare alone?

What are your answers I wonder? When I ask these questions generally half of the population believe that Tortoise cheated, most believe he ‘bent the rules’ to win.

So that leads me to ask;

What were the rules? Were they ever stated? Who has the right to impose rules? Who in our world EVER wins a race completely on their own?

Let me repeat that, as it is the key question for many youth. Who in our world EVER wins a race completely on their own. The runner? The swimmer? They may cross the line alone but they have a multitude of people supporting them along the way. The chess player learns strategies and practises against others along the way. The rock climber has their belay person, the trainer, the route setter etc etc.

Once this idea has been broken out we then work in a group to mimic the success of Tortoise. We think about things that we want to achieve. Write them down, describe them, visualise them clearly. Tortoise knew exactly what he wanted.

We write a step-by-step plan. Including who we need to recruit to help us achieve that goal. We also make a strong point of who we need to ignore/leave behind to achieve our goal. It sounds harsh but not everyone is going to buoy our spirits or compliment our efforts or want to see us achieve. Not everyone should be listened to.

We also look at the things we can do alone, such as research, visualisation, practise etc.

Depending on the age group I analyse the turning points in the story, that is at what points could the story have gone a different way. What were the alternatives? What then are the alternatives in our own stories?

The Tortoise and the Hare is a universal story that has been passed down over generations across the globe. Its long life and success as a story is due to its relevance. Sometimes us adults need to be reminded of our story and the power of the stories we tell ourselves and our children.

Just as a further note for those that are interested.

I used the story and structure above as a part of the ‘Kids Making Choices’ Program over a period of 5 years. Below is some information on the program as a whole.

The program was an early intervention two-day workshop. We worked with targeted primary schools, typically with a high component of Culturally and Ethnically Diverse (CALD) background students. The program was funded by The Attorney Genreral’s Office (National community crime prevention programme), the PCYC Wollongong, and the Illawarra Ethnic Communities Council (as it was then known).  The program approach focused on raising young peoples awareness of the importance of developing personal values, competencies and character strengths that will empower them to understand and consider alternatives to a variety of situations.

The Objectives of the project as a whole were to;

  • Assist and enable CALD young people to understand and explore values that are important for them and society.
  • To explore concepts for the positive and negative choices, self esteem and peer pressure.
  • To develop personal competencies for the transition to high school, particularly how to deal with peer pressure.
  • Learning to communicate effectively and set personal goals.
  • Using values and character strengths to make positive choices.

Welcome

I am a professional storyteller. I tell stories orally – no books, no screens in front of me. I tell the story in the traditional way, my heart and mouth to your ears and heart.

I perform stories to children and adults. Some of you may remember beautiful stories like the Hat Seller, Cinderella, the Tin Soldier, The Wide Mouth Frog, Hiawatha, The Boy Who Cried Wolf, or characters and sagas such as Cipitio, Anansi, Ramayana and so so many more depending on where you are from, the stories your parents were told or what wonderful teachers you had.

These are the stories that fill our imagination and sent us into the dream world at night. The stories that filled long car trips. The stories that made us feel safe and loved when we were ill or lonely or a bit down. They also ignited play games, role plays and adventures with friends.

I love researching stories and story traditions. I also love to work with stories. Working with stories is a completely different thing to performing stories. I use stories to achieve goals and to create a sharing space. My brother had mental illness and I used stories to escape the institutional environment, with him in particular I used improvised stories to learn how to find threads of connection, reality and to understand that it is possible to come out of the ‘imaginary’ world.

With primary school aged children I use stories to teach resilience, goal setting and positive decisions making.

With adult carers I use stories of self-care.

With primary school children I teach Spanish using stories. The animals and landscape or setting of the story teaches them about a country. The language of introductions and verbs are often repeated and the children LOVE it. It is much more fun to say a verb in present and past tense in the context of a story than as a grammar drill!

I use stories for refugees and newly arrived to help with English language acquisition and I facilitate the sharing of personal stories to develop a sense of community and understanding.

I find that my work brings me into contact with fascinating people, stories and representations of history. I have started this blog to share these with you. There are so many wondrous stories that to keep it all to myself would be a shame.

So welcome and I hope you enjoy.

Lilli