m.j.t. trapman, may '97

The object of the project is to collect stories that come from the collective consciousness of the population in the shelters.

In a parallel with individual counselling, the principle is that expressing the stories in which, symbolically or not, the pain and the memories of the collective trauma are stored, is healing. Yet, a way has to be found to make this expression into a collective process.

The Project has several levels.

A.  the general project
A1. Preparation
A2. Stories-cycles
A3. Evaluation

B. the story-cycle is the second level, and in fact each story that is harvested can be seen as its own small project, with again several phases.

1.   ‘Harvesting’ the story.
2.  Filing the story
3.  Analysing the story
4.  (Trans)forming the story
5.  Feedback of story
6.  Impact registration.

This is a cyclical process, so after each cycle (or even parallel to one cycle), another story can be harvested, after which each phase from 1 will start again.

A1. Preparation.
There will be some training, using necessary equipment, and translating this project-setup.
Also there will be the development of staff.
We need a  translator that can enter the stories into the computer in English and Amharic, and preferably also in Tigray
We will need the two artists that are working on the comic, and preferably some actors and musicians, maybe also a writer.
We must develop ideas about how to get a focus-group in the shelter. (See: Analysis.)

A2. The story-cycle will be described somewhat more extensive below.

A3. Evaluation.
Of course the whole project should be evaluated, in relation to some general targets that we could word as follows:

1.  We hope that the character of stories as told to us will gain through time in meaning and emotional context.
2.  We hope that these stories will tend to become more optimistic through time.
3.  We hope that authorship and other signs of self-respect will become more strong
4.  We hope that, in connection to other events and actions, the stories will start to reflect the feeling that the shelter is a place to leave.

Part of the evaluative process will also be the creation of a handbook or manual that can be used by small groups that would like to use the insights gained during this work.
A final element of the evaluation will be the search for sustainability. Some of the developed forms may be marketable in some simple way. Also projects of this nature might be eligible for funding through other agencies (e.g. the Prins Claus Fonds in the Netherlands.) In general it is clear that there is no specific provision for this project within the current IPSER model, so if it shows to have potential maybe there should some be made in the next phase.

A2.: The Story-Cycle.

1. Harvesting the stories.

Stories can be realistic (tarik) from history, or fantasy (tarat).
?(Question: How about songs? Or stories that are sung?)
In Harvesting stories, the first step is important: the question one asks. There is a big difference between shoving a microphone under someone’s nose and telling: “Give me a story” (even in a somewhat mitigated form), or having a talk with a group of mothers, in which we explain that we are looking to find those stories that the mothers think are important for their children. Of course we should find a way in which we can do the last. Here also, the real first steps are very important, and must be made with great care.

It would be positive if some form of individual counselling would already be in place, because sooner or later we will hit the stories that bring strong emotions out, and many of the people we work with are not only traumatised on a collective level, but also on an individual level. If we are going to work in Aware, this would mean an introduction to the Aware Committee like the ones we already had with the Committees of the other shelters. (Therefore; with Mesfin and Lewis at least. We have met the central Committee, that is also based in Aware, but they are not the committee of Aware.) Maybe some of the current trainees could also work there?

After asking for important stories for children, we may for instance continue to ask for stories for the older children, for teen-agers, for young parents, for lone mothers, for men that left their wives, for soldiers, for farinji, for the elderly.
The order suggests a kind of hierarchy, the expectancy that some stories will be more difficult to tell than others.

The second step is the arrangement for recording the story.
This should not be done in an off-hand way, but made into a small ceremony that respects the storyteller. It could be done over some tea or coffee, for instance, and care should be taken that there are some listeners.
A place should be found that is somewhat secluded, reasonably lighted, not too noisy.

The third step is setting up the recording equipment.
We will work with video, in order to be able to also analyse the non-verbal expression and interaction between the story-teller and the audience.
Of course a short training will be part of the preparation of the project.

The forth step is the actual story-telling

The fifth step is thanking, packing and leaving

The sixth step (immediate feed-back) is making a first print of the story, with a photograph of the storyteller, and giving one or more copies to the story-teller. This could maybe be done in a way that it is sellable. This means, that a story should not be harvested before we can make sure that it is type-written nearly immediately.

2. Filing the Stories.

We will develop a system of filing stories.
Of course there is the identity of the story-teller, which is also important if we harvest nearly identical stories. We will try to gather some of the personal history of each storyteller.
We will record the date and place where the story was told.
Then there is information about the story itself: Title, Length, etc.
Characters, fantasy/reality,
There is information about the target audience.
There is information about content…

We will bring all the information in a computer data-base

3.  Analysing the story.

Analysis of a story will be done in the office, as well as with a small focus group in the shelter. During the analysis we will ask questions like: what emotions dies the story intend to raise? In what order?
What is the historic back-ground o the story? Can we trace it in the litterature?
If the story is tarik,  how does its content relate to official history?

Especially in relation to the tarik , we will have to go to Eritreia after some time, in order to compare these stories with those that are told by the people that did not leave.

With the focusgroup we will also have discussions on the issue of the target group. For which group this story should be told? What do they think the story should achieve? How do they judge the story? (Positive, negative, optimistic, pessimistic, complete, incomplete, etc.)

4. Transforming the story.

In this phase we will search for a good, beautiful, inspiring, expressive, impressive way to tell the story for a larger audience. This is essentially a work for the artists: coming to form. Yet, not all forms will eventually have to be executed by the artists themselves, it is very well possible and probably also recommendable that the shelter-residents either participate, or finally be the only performers.
This is especially important for those residents that have an artistic back-ground, be it in the beginning manifest or hidden. (Some people can play music or sing, but did not do so any more since living in the shelters because performing is too emotional to them.)
All forms will have to be simple, because they must be performed in the shelters and cannot, through their means, be in a too big contrast with the living conditions in the shelters. Also, the means should not be totally out of reach of the shelter-residents.
Yet, there are hosts of forms that can be chosen:
-There can be comic-related forms, combination of images and written words, that could be offered to the school-teacher to work with.
-There could be the collective painting of a wall.
-There can be simple forms of story-telling by actors, as well as more complex theatrical forms, using music.
-There can be songs.
Forms can be for small audiences, they can also be for larger audiences, and be performed at gatherings of the residents for other purposes. (Marriage, holidays, Funerals, etc.)

The work to develop these forms will be trained so as to reach the point where a small team of artists could always develop an new inspiring form rather fast.

In exceptional situations we could of course use some more complicated means like the video (for instance in the work with teen-agers), but this should wait till there is some measure of self-confidence of the residents.
An indication could be that they start proposing these forms themselves.

5. Feedback of the stories.

Feedback, will be, even more so than harvesting, an event within the shelters, and care must be taken that these events do respect the existing rhythm of life in the shelters. This does not mean that all performances should be on moments that are expected or predestined for such things. Some performances could take place on moments that they are explicitly unexpected. Yet, even the unexpected happening should be possible, which means, not be insensitive towards the existing order of things.

In all cases there will be certain ritual as well as festive elements that must be part of the performance, since these performances intend to have a healing effect, and therefore hope to influence thinking and feelings. To make this possible, there are certain rules for an event, to make sure that the receptor engages the moment with a frame of mind that will permit emotions and feelings to exist.
Again ‘respect’ is a crucial concept here.

6. Impact registration.

Of course the focus group will be instrumental in this, but we will also have to develop our own means of registering the impact that the feedback of stories has. I use not the word ‘measurement’ on purpose, since there is no way of quantisizing yet here.
There are two levels of impact registration:
the first is after each event (performance), and related directly to that event.
The second is over larger amounts of time, and should register a difference in atmosphere somewhere: either in the character of the stories that we are being told, in the general atmosphere surrounding the project (development in attitude vis-a-vis the project) or in the atmosphere within the shelter at large.
Registration can be through interviews, but as well through participant observation.

Impact registration has some aspects of evaluation of course, and therefore it is only logical that from this registration conclusions will be drawn considering the forms of other, following performances. Yet, it will be difficult to generate direct conclusions from one event that will be valuable to the next event, that will probably have another form.

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