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Stories wield power. When told

“I have another story I’d like to tell,” shouted 14-year old Rahul, his voice full of excitement. Then he added, “two…no… three stories!”

Over five days at the beginning of September, I facilitated a workshop on Digital Storytelling with 10 participants from the El Shaddai Charitable Trust, a non-profit in Goa that runs homes and schools for underprivileged children. The participants – five girls and five boys all 14+ years.

“Who story do we start with?”

“I’m so nervous!”

“This was fun!”

“Let’s see Raghav’s film again!”

At the end of the five days, the participants were excited to see their finished films projected on the screen. And like Rahul, they want to continue to tell more stories.

Stories are power and today more than ever before, those with the stories control the power. The best businesses have long known this and wielded influence over consumers through the stories they wove. Governments are getting more and more story-savvy – “Let’s make America Great again,” “Phir Ek Baar Modi Sarkar” (Modi once more), “Take Back Control” – swaying nations in overwhelming numbers across the world.

The digital revolution has made it easier than ever to tell our stories. But while those with power continue to use stories to strengthen and consolidate their power, those on the margins will continue to be left behind – their voices stifled, their stories never heard.

Inclusive Information and Communication Technology that helps the marginalised understand the power of stories and tell their stories is the challenge of the digital age.

I was speaking to someone about how sometimes it’s an uphill task to get people to tell their stories. “They do not understand the need or value of it,” I said.

The answer is not more stories from those privileged because “if we don’t who will?” Do we really need more of the same privileged stories? The space will be richer when those other voices are encouraged, ever so slowly, to find their own voices. That, to me, is real storytelling. When each of us, regardless of birth, money, sex or any other advantage not of our own making, can tell our stories.

The children at the workshop came from troubled backgrounds – poverty, an abusive parent, a dead father, a mother too sick to take care of her children – lives too challenging for me to imagine. The workshop aimed to help them understand that their stories were important. That they were important.

“Each one of us has a story waiting to be told,” I told them at the outset, “Tell the story that’s important to you, right now.”

What is important is to dig just below the surface to find those stories. And yes! Each of us is filled with stories!

The DST workshop works on multiple disciplines. Technology is evident and so is creativity with memoir storytelling and art. But the workshop also calls up areas of psychology and sociology. It creates the space for participants to look at their lives and see themselves as “the story”. These workshops have the potential for participants to come away more ready to face their life histories and societal positions, instead of ignoring and sweeping the past under the carpet of conformation.

I had facilitated the first DST workshop back in 2008 with my mentor and friend Alito Siqueira, ex-professor at the Goa University. Over many years, we conducted DST workshops for first-year MA students at the university. Many of these participants went on to write their Final MA dissertations on the stories they started in the DST workshop. This was due to the dedication, compassion, and pioneering pedagogy of Alito in the classroom and outside.

We had two sessions of three hours each day over five days with a break on the third day for gathering images and material from the field.

On the first day participants were introduced to the Digital Storytelling form – short personal stories in a film format between 1 to 3 minutes. The films are made of still images and paintings along with the participant’s voice and a background music track. 

Exposed to the power of stories and given a primer on the key factors that make a good story, a painting session helped the participants unwind and relax to release their innate creativity. By the end of day one, each of the participants had decided on and had a written story.

From then on, it was a mix of polishing their stories using the principals of storytelling and learning the technologies involved.

The children created their storyboards and learnt to record their narrations. Finally, they put it all together in the software. For the purpose of the workshop, we kept it simple and used the free VideoPad software (its free for non-commercial use, with a license available for commercial work). This free software is surprisingly feature-rich – an excellent first step into the world of video editing.

We used El Shaddai’s school library as the venue of the workshop. Being a non-profit, we were not working on very beefy systems, so system lag was a general issue to deal with. The children had to navigate past malfunctioning audio, project files lost in power outages and computer viruses that were close to breaking out of the systems and infecting us all.

“No problem, sir,” said Manjula as I tried in vain to help her get back a lost project.

“I’ll do it all over.”

“The whole thing?” I asked, knowing she had nearly completed the project, “are you sure?”

“Yes sir, I’ll do it again.”

I realised how easily I would have thrown a fit had my system so much as lagged even a bit, not to mention breaking the CPU if it caused and loss of work!

I marvelled at Manjula’s resilience and patience.

Amos lost his project four times, exporting the final video just an hour before the final presentation and turned in a film that was a gem.

But most important was the enthusiasm for telling their stories. It’s not as though the children were all that gung-ho at the beginning. Then again, who is enthusiastic when it comes to sharing our stories? But it’s only once we understand the value of the process and the power it can wield, that we will open to sharing.

“Will you use DST again?” I asked during the screening.

“Yes!” replied Laxmi, “I’ll use it for project presentations in college.”

“So will I,” said Manjula.

“I too will tell my stories,” said Rahul, the youngest of them all.

“Good! What stories will you tell?” I queried.

“Hmm… let me think,” he replied, looking up at the ceiling to laughter from the rest of his friends.

Today, memoir is a rage in publishing circles. From former alcoholics to victims of abuse, from business honchos to recovering psychopaths, from janitors to nuns. Everyone has a story to tell and can tell it thanks to digital platforms and self-publishing.

Digital Storytelling. What’s your story?

This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. Stories really do weild power when told!! I definitely agree.. I too have stories to tell, but how do I get to do so..
    Can you have a workshop for the general public? Or is it only for the underprivileged? If the latter is the case, do consider me as one, if only to be a part of this wonderful workshop!

    1. Quite right Dr Anna, we all have stories that need to be told. And yes, I am inclined to work with the underprivileged of all kinds – the people on the margins when it comes to the stories we hear.

      For too long have a few controlled the stories while the rest have consumed and been influenced by them.

      I am happy to work with of the “storied underprivileged”

      1. Great news! Do keep me in the loop. Let us unleash the power from within!

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