Ross Ahlfeld on how storytelling can breakdown cultural barriers, transform our communites and our lives
There is a charming old proverb attributed to the people of Armenia, which has it that three apples fell from Heaven: one for the teller of a story, one for the listener, and the third for the one who 'took it to heart.'
I’ve always loved telling old tales and listening to them be told by others and for very many years now, I’ve belonged to a local arts and heritage group engaged in storytelling and folklore.
As such, we’re excited to be hosting a National Lottery Heritage Fund storytelling project alongside Inverclyde’s New Scots community, called ‘Sharing Stories’, here at Port Glasgow Regeneration Centre. In previous years we have facilitated other Storytelling projects with our Syrian, Kurdish and Afghan friends.
However, this one is perhaps more appropriate because its emphasis is on listening to our New Scots, rather than simply telling them about our various Scottish myths and legends.
This shift was informed by the parents of displaced Syrian refugee families, because Syrian children learning about their own Syrian stories, means that the memory of their own culture is being kept alive, shared with (and enriching) the wider host community.
‘Sharing Stories’ also sits perfectly alongside our long standing ‘New Communities Befriending’ project, also delivered at our community centre. Yet, it would be inaccurate to describe New Communities Befriending as simply a befriending programme for refugees, especially since our volunteer Befrienders benefit from the relationships just as much as the beneficiaries within our Syrian community.
Our Befrienders include retired couples, young Mums and part-time call centre workers who greatly enjoy meeting new people and forming meaningful human relationships with all those who have come here.
Yet, even though both ‘New Communities Befriending’ and ‘Sharing Stories’ are supported by a Vol-Org, the real work is carried out by ordinary folks in the community and not the Third Sector. For us, this is a space where authentic civil society is built up and where people of all kinds come together to make society better for themselves.
Jean Vanier, founder of L’Arche communities, calls on us to be free from fear and free to open ourselves up to other cultures. Vanier asks - “Tell me your story, each one of us has a story to tell? I’m not here to change you; I’m here to listen and to walk with you. You may be different but we meet as humans and in meeting, we can accept and transform each other.”
Ross is community programmes and projects operations manger with Inverclyde Community Development Trust