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Unleasing the transformative power of stories

In December 2023, Women in International Security – Horn of Africa (WIIS-HoA) hosted a one-week communication training in Nairobi, Kenya. The training brought together members of the Sisters without Borders (SWB) from Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania with the support from United States Institute for Peace (USIP). The primary aim for the training is to equip the women leaders with advanced storytelling skills, enabling them to effectively communicate the stories of their organizations and the communities they serve. This is part of the ongoing project that aims to empower women leaders and promote networking for peace in the region.

Storytelling is more than just transmitting information; it’s about crafting narratives that resonate on a personal level, fostering transparency, and connecting people through shared languages and symbols. In an African setting, storytelling holds particular importance. It is a deeply ingrained cultural practice that has been used for centuries to pass down wisdom, preserve history, and strengthen community bonds. By harnessing the power of storytelling, SWB members can not only document their work but also inspire and mobilize their communities toward collective action and change.

This training emphasized the immense potential of storytelling to impact change and create visibility for community efforts. Participants were taught to explore various storytelling methods, including photos, videos, and personal narratives. Branding was highlighted as a powerful storytelling tool, with banners displaying messages like “Building Climate Resilience” drawing more participants to join and support initiatives, thereby contributing to the narrative of change.

Transforming data into engaging stories is crucial for illustrating tangible outcomes in an accessible manner. By doing so, SWB partners can enhance their credibility and foster a strong connection with their audience. Throughout the training, participants engaged in interactive group work and sessions designed to improve their storytelling skills and emphasize the importance of teamwork. Key topics included the importance of storytelling, the use of editing tools, ethical storytelling practices, and the significance of mental well-being, particularly after listening to various stories. A dedicated session on ethical considerations ensured that members learned to protect the dignity and privacy of individuals whose stories they shared.

WIIS-HoA, a pioneer of the network advancing the leadership of women in international security, plays a crucial role in empowering women to take on leadership roles and influence policy in peace and security sectors. This vision aligns seamlessly with the emphasis on storytelling, as it provides a platform for women to share their experiences and advocate for change.

In an era overwhelmed with information, building trust through genuine stories is paramount. Sharing narratives of both successes and challenges demonstrates an organization’s commitment to accountability and honesty, attracting new partners drawn to the transparency and authenticity of the organization’s story. Mental health, a critical issue in communities facing challenges like climate change, insecurity, and gender-based violence, was also a key focus of the training. The “Minding the Mind” session, facilitated by a mental health specialist, created a safe space for participants to share their experiences and discuss mental health challenges. This session aimed to equip SWB partners with the knowledge and skills to address mental health issues in their storytelling and interactions with community members.

The importance of women telling their stories was particularly emphasized. Women’s voices have historically been marginalized, yet they play a crucial role in community building, peacekeeping, and social transformation. By sharing their stories, women can highlight the unique challenges they face and the innovative solutions they develop, thus inspiring other women and advocating for gender equality and empowerment. Women’s stories are vital in showcasing their resilience and contributions to society, ensuring that their perspectives and experiences are recognized and valued.

This groundbreaking training not only enhanced storytelling skills but also empowered participants to catalyze positive change in their communities through their stories. Participants appreciated the emphasis on using consent forms when collecting information and committed to applying these practices in their work. The training was a resounding success, laying the foundation for more effective storytelling and greater community impact.