Story Telling

This is an incredible blog by the trauma counselor currently doing work with JRI in DR-Congo. Give it a read, it's pretty incredible and has some awesome information on Talk Therapy. http://sarahwhittakerhowe.wordpress.com/2014/06/18/story-telling-in-bitter-sweet-kalembe/Enjoy

 

10453362_979035655311_4625201861084078894_nBitter, sweet Kalembe: a community hit hardest by the enduring war, and yet one of the most beautiful places I have yet to visit. Kalembe is perfectly imperfect. The captivating beauty of both the landscape and the human faces and hearts of Kalembe, are saturated in a tragic story of endless violations of human rights and losses. You will not meet one person here who does not have a story to tell, but so many stories are hidden, buried deep, untold and unheard. This is partly due to a cultural belief, that healing and recovery looks like forgetting the past and focusing positively on the future (a belief many, if not most, cultures share), but their stories are also lost because when is there time or space to story tell when war continues to rage? And in a community where everyone has been affected, who has the capacity or willingness to bear witness to more suffering in the role of the listener? This silence, however, can become toxic, infecting survivors in the form of nightmares, intrusive and painful memories and unprocessed and unresolved emotions, that keep survivors enslaved to past traumas and unable to move forward.

In both my clinical and personal experience, I know that story telling is a powerful tool in the midst of human suffering. Throughout history, testimonies have had an indescribable effect on both the author and listener (I’m sure you know the feeling I am talking about). When survivors put words to their experiences, a healing process begins; they can start to make-sense of what happened and start to manage their thoughts and feelings.

In Kalembe, I had the greatest privilege to run three workshops on the psychological consequences (“the invisible wounds”) of war and how story telling can be a catalyst for healing.

I first met with 40 men, considered leaders in the community (e.g., Pastors, Teachers, Land Owners, Police). All were reluctant to share any information about their war experiences, until I asked them to “draw a picture that represents a memory that keeps coming back to you – something you can’t forget.” It took some encouraging before the first brave soul came to the front, to share his picture and tell his story. Then, before I could even gear myself up to try and encourage others to share, the men came forward – unprompted – one-after-the-other, to tell their story. The stories were brief, lacking detail, but it was a start. As one man put it:   “Today has turned a switch on in my heart” and another man “I realise we are all suffering together, my problems don’t seem so big knowing this”.

Justice Rising teachers drawing their trauma

Two days later I ran a workshop with our Justice Rising teachers, who are working with over 300 of Kalembe’s children. We want them to play an integral role in healing and rising up the next generation of Kalembe, but they too need healing. Just like the men, they were reluctant to share, until they started to draw and write about their war experiences. As a group we heard about the teacher who witnessed rebels take his father from their home, instruct him to strip naked and dance in front of the community to no music. He told us the worst moment was feeling his father’s humiliation and his belief that he thought he was weak because he did nothing to stop them. We heard about the teacher who watched her home be burnt to the ground with her father still inside and the teacher who can’t get over the memory he froze when his mother was crying out to him for help. The psychologist in me was itching to push for more detail and explore their thoughts and emotions, but I had to remember that, for many of these teachers, this was the first time they had put words to their traumas. This was a good start. I asked the teachers what they had learnt from the workshop – “That I don’t have to remain silent. I am not the only one suffering and I can be encouraged by other people’s stories”. I’m praying that the toxic effect of silence is broken amongst these teachers and they continue to find the words to tell their stories.

My final workshop was with our incredible Leadership League. Young men aged between 10 and 24, who carry invisible wounds of war and who have chosen to lay down weapons to play soccer and be discipled in our new Leadership League programme.

10450104_979036224171_2613667394770236416_o“How many of you have nightmares?”

“How many experience intrusive, upsetting memories”

“How many of you have unhelpful thoughts, like ‘it was my fault’, ‘I should have done something’, ‘I’m a bad person’?”

“How many of you feel sad, guilty, ashamed?”

“How many of you feel scared when you go out?”

“How many of you don’t talk about what has happened to you?”

A sea of hands rose to each question.

The league all completed life lines: documenting important events (both positive and traumatic) that make up their life-story. Tragically, all their stories were the same: a life made-up of violence, hatred and loss, but also a hope that “my future won’t reflect my past”.

In the presence of these men, you could sense their hunger for change, to challenge the history of their community and write a different future for Congo. Please help us to continue supporting these men to heal, rise up and write their future by looking out for our new initiative ‘I am a peace movement’ coming soon.

… small seeds of story telling. I wish I could have planted bigger, faster growing seeds, but I’m constantly learning to appreciate the culture and context I’m placed in. Kalembe has a tragic story to tell, but also a great story of human resilience, but it is going to take time for the community to give itself permission to speak. Thankful to be part of their journey.