Voices Series: How I reconnected with my purpose through storytelling

This blog is part of a series of reflective essays by participants of the Voices to End FGM/C workshops run by Sahiyo and StoryCenter. Through residential and online workshops on digital storytelling, Voices to End FGM/C enables those who have been affected by female genital mutilation/cutting to tell their stories through their own perspectives, in their own words.

By Nonya Khedr 

Sahiyo and StoryCenter created a remarkable experience for me at the Voices to End FGM/C digital storytelling workshop. The workshop included phenomenal women and men who wanted to use their stories to advocate against the practice. Although sharing my story put me in a position where I felt extremely vulnerable and exposed, I certainly felt safe.

During the workshops, we learned how to create and articulate our stories in order to advocate against the practice. We took breaks to participate in healing exercises such as yoga and meditation. I was very grateful that we took time out of the workshops because it helped me reconnect with myself and acknowledge where I was. It gave my brain time to rejuvenate after revisiting traumatic experiences.

These exercises emphasized the importance of taking time out of my everyday life to take care of my wellbeing in order to strive and grow in my career. A few weeks later, I am now more mindful of how to manage my work, reconnecting with my purpose and remembering why I am doing this work. I am taking better care of my self with prayer, exercise, and downtime. 

The workshop inspired me to keep moving forward with the work I’m doing with my organization, SheFFA. I started SheFFA earlier this year to advocate against FGM/C, and provide support for women who have undergone the practice. Before coming to the conference, I experienced so many stressful and discouraging moments working on it due to the overwhelming amount of work and being a full-time college student. However, being a part of an environment full of powerful women and men who are passionate about eradicating FGM/C gave me more hope to move forward. I have developed lovely relationships with people who are extremely supportive and whose goals align with my mission.

The story that I have created during the workshop will be used to bring more awareness against FGM/C with the intention to empower other people to speak out against the practice and to make a greater impact.

 

 

Sahiyo Partner Organization Highlight: StoryCenter

StoryCenter creates spaces for transforming lives and communities, through the acts of listening to and sharing stories as a vehicle for education, community mobilization, and advocacy. Since 1993, they have helped over 20,000 individuals tell their stories. They collaborate with organizations around the world on workshops in story facilitation, digital storytelling, and other forms of participatory media production. In 2018, Sahiyo, in partnership with StoryCenter, launched an inaugural digital storytelling workshop. Nine women’s stories have since elevated the conversation about female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) in the U.S. and globally. The stories were distributed online and via media channels, as well as at live community screening events. They are being used as educational tools to support discussion among survivors within their communities, with a focus on challenging the social norms sanctioning FGM/C, and encouraging an end to the practice. Sahiyo is honored to have Amy Hill, StoryCenter’s Silence Speaks director, partner with Sahiyo on the Voices to End FGM/C project to expand the number of digital stories since the first 2018 workshop.

1) When and how did you and your organization first get involved with Sahiyo?

I first met Mariya when she attended a digital storytelling workshop I was leading with alumni of the Women’s Foundation of California’s Women’s Policy Institute in 2017. She produced a stunning video about her own journey of sharing her female genital cutting story, as part of her advocacy efforts against the practice. I had always been interested in doing work on the topic as part of our global women’s rights efforts, and I felt that Mariya, with her focus on personal storytelling as method for breaking the silence, ending stigma, and building leadership among women for speaking out against FGM/C, would be the perfect collaborating partner. I approached her, and together, we put on a pilot digital storytelling workshop for women survivors of FGM/C. It was a deeply powerful experience for everyone involved. I think even Mariya and I were a little surprised by how effective StoryCenter’s core methodology in digital storytelling was, for working with this issue.

2) What does your work with Sahiyo and StoryCenter as a joint partnership involve?

Our first digital storytelling workshop grew into a global effort called Voices to End FGM/C, which brings survivors and advocates from practicing communities together to share stories and craft them into short digital videos as a way of building nurturing, healing relationships and solidarity, and mobilizing the storytellers to become further involved in efforts to address and prevent cutting. So far we’ve done a total of four digital storytelling workshops: three in person, and one fully online, to create a collection of more than 40 poignant and compelling short videos. Mariya and I have co-facilitated all of the workshops, and Sahiyo has done a brilliant job of continuing to engage with the storytellers afterward. They’ve written blog postings about the storytelling experience, made presentations at public screenings and conferences and more. Sahiyo’s skill in getting the stories out into the world is almost unparalleled in my 20-year history of work at StoryCenter. They are very sophisticated with social media outreach and have been able to bring a lot of media attention to the stories, which is exciting. 

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3) How has your involvement with Sahiyo impacted your own organization’s work?

Speaking of social media, StoryCenter helps people create amazing content that can be circulated widely online and via mobile phones, and yet our main focus has typically been not on distribution, but on putting together and facilitating participatory media workshops that truly enhance the wellbeing of storytellers. While all of my work has focused explicitly on how stories can be useful in the world for creating change, it’s not the norm for our programs. But the Voices to End FGM/C project has inspired more of our staff to push for innovative ways to publicly circulate stories that come out of our processes, and Sahiyo’s Communications Coordinator even met recently with one of my colleagues who is jump-starting our Instagram presence and was interested in looking at Sahiyo’s approach to featuring the Voices stories as a model. We’ve also joined the U.S. Network to End FGM/C, which is exciting for us to be part of a larger group of individuals and organizations committed to ensuring future generations of girls do not go through what some of our Voices storytellers have endured, as a result of being cut. Our partnership with Sahiyo has evolved so beautifully and organically. I feel that it has helped me trust more than I already did the idea that our work at StoryCenter has to be based on solid human relationships and shared visions for change, rather than on rigid agendas or desires to be successful in a conventional way.

4) What words of wisdom would you like to share with others who may be interested in supporting StoryCenter, Sahiyo and the movement against FGM/C?

Stories matter. Everyone’s voice is worthy of being heard, and creating spaces where individual perspectives can be aired, where people’s pain can be witnessed, really does build solidarity and is essential to movement-building. FGM/C is a form of trauma; trauma fractures our ability to connect in healthy, intimate ways; and storytelling is a way to repair those rifts, to enable people to find solace and support and strength for the difficult parts of the journey together. 

 

Voices Series: Why I'm grateful for sharing my story of Female Genital Cutting

This blog is part of a series of reflective essays by participants of the Voices to End FGM/C workshops run by Sahiyo and StoryCenter. Through residential and online workshops on digital storytelling, Voices to End FGM/C enables those who have been affected by female genital mutilation/cutting to tell their stories through their own perspectives, in their own words.

By Anonymous

Honestly, I have never felt like a victim. What I am here to do is to create more awareness about female genital cutting (FGC)  in a creative form. My video touches on other religious issues subtly, and that’s why there is a repulsion to go public from my family, and I absolutely understand that.

Having to do this dialogue with my family and myself about being open or anonymous led me into a phase of depression where I felt locked, felt I cannot speak freely. It actually helped me evolve. This was deep. I have just aged in the process of making this decision to even release the work.

Now that it is clear to me, I understand how politically it can affect my family just because my story involves more than just FGC. With that clarity I chose to remain anonymous on this piece, largely the overall impact of having this done makes me more robust, more open with subtle diplomacy and less naivety. This phase strengthened self-belief, maybe in the future being anonymous can become history. Very thankful.

 

Voices Series: We remember stories we're told as children

This blog is part of a series of reflective essays by participants of the Voices to End FGM/C workshops run by Sahiyo and StoryCenter. Through residential and online workshops on digital storytelling, Voices to End FGM/C enables those who have been affected by female genital mutilation/cutting to tell their stories through their own perspectives, in their own words.

By Fakhera

My experience with the Global Voices to End FGM/C digital storytelling workshop in July 2019 workshop was not an isolated event in itself, but is part of a larger mission, i.e. elemination of the practice of female genital mutilation (FGM). It is a practice prevalent in my community, the Dawoodi Bohra Muslim community. FGM is a practice that has been handed down as a tradition to be followed without being questioned.

When my niece, Farzana, an eminent writer and therapist, a voice recognised in the literary circle in Canada, introduced me to Masooma Ranavli, the principal advocate on FGM through her organisation, Speak Out On FGM, it gave me an opportunity to participate in a movement against this practice. I later joined Sahiyo, another organisation with the same mission.

The storytelling workshop is a continuum of the same mission. It is one of the ways by which the message is spread and conveyed. Female genital mutilation must stop. Gender bias must stop.  

As children we may not remember the things we studied, but we definitely remember the stories that were told to us. They left a lasting impact on us; such is the power of storytelling. My story has been unique to me. Yet, it resonates with the stories of many women like me who have been cut as little girls. It’s a story which I am hopeful will kindle the hearts of many to stand up against this patriarchal practice.

Unspoken

By Naima Dido

I wish I could finally say to you the words stuck in my throat, 

Behind my teeth and scattered on my tongue,

With you, I live on eggshells,

I don’t know how to tell you that I noticed that your days were filled with half-veiled insults,

I was praised serving tea the right way, 

Preparing to be a wife,

Soon the ear will be pierced. 

I don’t know how to find the words to tell you,

Away from you everything is new,

Painted with memories of you and beautifully tainted with old ways, 

And yes, the missing parts.

And if I could, 

I would say to you that the missing parts of me aren’t the only parts of my body that are hurting, 

That sometimes when I sit and watch my daughter play, 

And my throat starts to constrict, 

While my tear ducts prepare for the warm flight of my pain, 

I still remember the sound of the razor blade leaving its paper cover,

And I still feel the moment the blade cuts my flesh,

How my blood sparkled against the light as it raced between my legs, 

Escaping my body, 

You watched as I wept. 

I wish I could say to you that I fantasize about telling you these words,

that are years overdue, 

And no, I’m not okay, 

I still don’t know how to find the words to tell you of my inherited sorrows, 

Of the joy of my new life, 

The last time we spoke, 

You said I didn’t care about you, 

You’re mistaken,

I do; I just don’t know how to show it. 

Maybe I’m not making any sense, 

The real words have morphed themselves into metaphors, 

Suppressed too long, 

To the root of this mess, 

I want to say that I’m sorry I wasn’t stronger for you 

And for me, 

Now as I roam the world, 

I carry with me our pain 

Crafted into tools for my success, 

They find a way—the thorns life may throw to the next in line,

My sweet B.

(Naima Dido participated in Sahiyo’s Voices to End FGM/C workshop. You can read her reflection piece here and watch her video below.)

Voices Series: Naima Dido

My mother, a woman who has never held a pencil in her life, had a dream of educating me. And so, I became the first woman in my family to learn the power of literacy. Beyond the abilities to read and write for myself, my educational opportunities have empowered me to take control over my own mind and body, to know that I can mold my life and my future into whatever I wish. The differences between my mother and me include making my own choices, taking my own chances, and embracing the resulting changes. And still, my mother and our female ancestors—with all of their obedience to culturally expected behavior—inspire me to reach for my own dreams so that I could tell the stories of the trails they blazed with their blood, sweat, and tears, and most importantly their resilience and survival. In sharing our stories, I hope we inspire and empower other survivors to tell their stories.

I believe powerful narratives and effective storytelling can change cultural norms and create a space for new stories, ideas, and norms to flourish. When it comes to changing deeply held beliefs and traditions, stories are foundational. Supporting and empowering survivors to share their stories and engage with the broader community protects generations of girls to come from this harmful practice. Stories are a powerful tool to generate change. Hidden beneath our “survival stories” are skills, resources, positive values, dreams, and desires. Storytelling can help develop compassion for oneself.

Voices Series: Why I still speak up about FGM/C

This blog is part of a series of reflective essays by participants of the Voices to End FGM/C workshops run by Sahiyo and StoryCenter. Through residential and online workshops on digital storytelling, Voices to End FGM/C enables those who have been affected by female genital mutilation/cutting to tell their stories through their own perspectives, in their own words.

By Zenab Banu

I am involved in the movement to end female genital cutting (FGC) since I came to understand its impact on my married life. We had discussed the problem in 1987 in an All World Bohra Women’s Conference which was organized by the Bohra Youth Girls’ Wing in Udaipur. Sadly, the resolution that passed was not followed up. But I continued speaking up. I feel FGC should end because the rights of personal choice of a girl child and her bodily integrity have been violated without much concern by the society.

I have also attended the second Activist Retreat organized by Sahiyo, which took place in Mumbai where participants from various parts of India attended the retreat. It was a very good experience in meeting like-minded people and having long discussions, as well as learning different perspectives and ways to end the practice.

Later, when I got the opportunity to be part of Global Voices to End FGM/C, a storytelling project by Sahiyo together with StoryCenter, I was very much excited to be part of it. I really enjoyed the process of writing, recording and creating visuals of my story, though a lot of memories were triggered during the process, and I became emotional. 

My overall experience of the workshop was good. But think it would be more exciting if we could meet in person with other participants, rather than doing it virtually.

I feel that the We Speak Out group and Sahiyo are doing great work in raising awareness on the issue. I hope the movement ignites awareness, consciousness and creates public opinion among society in general and women in particular.

With this hope I have joined Sahiyo’s campaign against FGC. I have shared my own story of cutting, and I hope that more women will come out and share their stories and support to end FGC.

Voices Series: Why we must break the silence of FGM/C

This blog is part of a series of reflective essays by participants of the Voices to End FGM/C workshops run by Sahiyo and StoryCenter. Through residential and online workshops on digital storytelling, Voices to End FGM/C enables those who have been affected by female genital mutilation/cutting to tell their stories through their own perspectives, in their own words.

By Anonymous

I’ve been speaking about female genital mutilation (FGM) and what my experiences have been for a while now. But taking part in the Voices to End FGM/C online workshop allowed me to focus on something other than the experience of my FGM. Instead, it made me look closer at what it means to live with it every day, and how being privileged enough to having had it done under medical conditions so that there is no physical scarring means that my pain, my trauma, can be dismissed and brushed aside by others so very easily.

It was really cathartic–it always is–to speak or write about my FGM experiences. I deliberately use the term FGM because to differentiate it, to call it FGC, feels as though I’m trying to rationalise or to convey that what was done to me was not mutilation. It was mutilation. It was not just cutting. I was mutilated by the people I loved most, my parents, my wonderful, kind and still beloved doctor, and my community. I trusted them to protect me, and they, without meaning to, because I accept that they didn’t know, didn’t think of what they were doing as mutilation, hurt and traumatised me. I’m in my forties now, and I am still dealing with the hurt they caused me at seven.

I have really appreciated, even enjoyed the process of seeing my story come alive through the efforts of the brilliant artist illustrating my story during this workshop, and the excellent team that’s made this possible. Stories matter. We matter. Our pain needs to be shared so that hopefully, someone else is spared this trauma.

What I found most inspiring was listening to the webinars and hearing other women talk about their own stories. The silence around FGM/C is one of the greatest ways of allowing this trauma to continue. Breaking that silence gives those of us who have moved from being deniers, to victims, to survivors, and now, with this public conversation, warriors, the releasing of our demons. I know there’s disquiet about the use of the word warrior, the connotation of violence around it can be troubling, but to me, it fits. I am the warrior. In yoga, the warrior pose allows one to feel centered and strong. I am strong and centered now, and I, like the warriors of ancient Greece, am one who is steeped in experience and hard-won wisdom. 

Voices Series: How I learned to tell my FGM/C story

This blog is part of a series of reflective essays by participants of the Voices to End FGM/C workshops run by Sahiyo and StoryCenter. Through residential and online workshops on digital storytelling, Voices to End FGM/C enables those who have been affected by female genital mutilation/cutting to tell their stories through their own perspectives, in their own words.

By Saza Faradilla

Creating this digital narrative alongside other women from all around the world was a great journey! I learned how to tell my story in pictorial ways. Never having seen a visual version of my story, it was almost a serene experience watching it unfold. Working with Sahiyo, and especially my designer, Esther Elia, was an amazing experience, as she took my vision and put it into a video form that represented my experience with female genital cutting. Processing and reliving the scenario of finding out about the cutting performed on me helped me process it further.

Voices Series: Why I believe in the power of storytelling

This blog is part of a series of reflective essays by participants of the Voices to End FGM/C workshops run by Sahiyo and StoryCenter. Through residential and online workshops on digital storytelling, Voices to End FGM/C enables those who have been affected by female genital mutilation/cutting to tell their stories through their own perspectives, in their own words.

By Shabana Feroze

I participated in the Voices To End FGM/C project by Sahiyo, where I also volunteer. What I really took away from participating in this project is the power of storytelling. In this project, videos are made from our past experiences with female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C). Each participant has a unique video. We would have weekly online workshops in which we were guided on how to tell our story and the next steps.

When each of the participants would read out her unique take on their experience, I would get chills. It had so much of an impact, listening to what each survivor went through and how it had affected them. 

It was very educational as well, because we were taught the nuances of storytelling. I found that to be the most interesting part: all the details that make a story more impactful and holds interest. I loved how we had very strict guidelines about story and video length. 

I relate to all this because I’m a marketer by profession. I believe in the power of storytelling for brands and marketing campaigns, so this was a strong reassurance that I was on the right path. All the little things I learned about what makes a story powerful and what makes a story stay with you definitely helped me in my profession as well. I could apply that knowledge to my professional work.

I also learned about teamwork and how step-by-step a big project comes to fruition. I’ve never worked on a project on an international level where the participants are all based in different countries and different time zones. Yet all of us came together and we did what was required of us, thanks to the effort and patience of Mariya and Amy, our facilitators. 

I’ve gained so much from participating in this project, more than I expected. I hope that our voices reach the highest levels and help to create change to stop this tradition.