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The Powerful Art of Storytelling

Idaho Office for Refugees, a program of Jannus, Inc.

The Arts Education Project grant was instrumental in working with youth and reaching youth within the school systems and beyond. The COVID19 pandemic changed the way our participants could interact, but we still moved toward building stronger storytellers and increasing awareness and appreciation for all members of our beautiful, diverse community. Our project, entitled “, “The Powerful Art of Storytelling,” involved teaching the art of storytelling to speakers within the Refugee Speakers Bureau (RSB) and to “Third Culture Kids” at Centennial High School. It also included the sharing of this storytelling and the further education of the refugee experience abroad and locally to adults and youth in Idaho and beyond. The grant allowed for our Refugee Speakers Bureau Coordinator to facilitate working sessions with high school students, provide mentorship to speakers and young women in the Starling Program, train storytellers on traditional storytelling and organize a training on digital storytelling, and share our artists’ stories with schools, businesses, and non-profits.

The Essential Question that guided our projects’ focus was:

How do we use the art of storytelling to build a more welcoming community?

To better use the art of storytelling to build a more welcoming community, we started with training and mentoring storytellers. Storytelling is an art form as old as humanity, but we worked with organizations like Story Story Night, the Moth, and StoryCenter to learn how to shape stories to be their most compelling for various audiences.

One of the new ways we decided to train youth in storytelling was through work with “Third Culture Kids.” The Refugee Speakers Bureau worked with the leadership class of seniors who arrived in the US as immigrants (including former refugees) at Centennial High School in April 2019. The theme of the connections was “How to introduce yourself with impact,” which worked to address the needs of third Culture Kids to learn to tell their stories effectively in both their home/family culture and host culture. The Refugee Speakers Bureau continued working with the teacher to make this curriculum a regular part of this leadership class.

In addition to training storytellers, we also found interactive experiences with students and adults to share these stories. Storytellers provided time for listeners to ask questions and delve deeper into their stories, learning more about their refugee neighbors through shared experiences and values.

Essentially, we learned that the answer to this question was to provide culturally-appropriate training and mentoring to storytellers of all ages, shape those stories for the digital world, and find safe, interactive places for artists to engage in storytelling and deep discussion throughout Idaho.

At the conclusion of the project, students responded to questions related to the identified Standards:

Student storytellers at Centennial High appreciate the time to work on unpacking, sculpting, and sharing their Third Culture Kid stories. Third Culture Kids are youth who were born in another country but are being raised in a new country and culture. They straddle both worlds, which can lead to difficulties in shaping and holding their identities. We look forward to continuing this work for the youth participants and as a way to share information about our diverse community.

We received overwhelmingly positive responses from the students and teachers that listened to our artists at various storytelling events. Some of those will be uploaded in the photo section of this grant report. Our artists are able to form deep connections through their storytelling, which helps students understand the beauty of the art as well as challenge misconceptions about refugees and immigrants as they grow into adults.

Impact

This grant and the work it funded had a significant impact on our community. The storytelling training we provided to our refugee speakers helped them practice public speaking and English language, connect with their own stories and experiences, utilize their voices for advocacy around issues they are passionate about, and network with others in the community. The storytelling work from the Centennial High School classes is now built into the curriculum, leaving a legacy of cultural storytelling in the leadership class. Two of the students in this class also fully joined the Refugee Speakers Bureau, and one participant even went on to create a non-profit organization that supports refugee children still living in refugee camps in Africa.

In addition to training youth speakers, our coordinator was also able to facilitate storytelling at Reed Elementary, Sawtooth Middle School, Riverstone International, Boise High School, Centennial High School, The Vineyard Church, Boise Leadership Academy for Youth, and Sage International School, reaching 509 youth, plus additional family members and school staff. The coordinator of the RSB mentored young refugee women through the Economic Opportunity Starling Project, guiding them in navigating the world and owning their stories as Third Culture Kids. Artists also shared their stories at RSB events, non-profits, and businesses, reaching 1,909 adults over the course of the grant.

Because of the Arts Education Grant, we have more youth trained in storytelling, had meaningful community engagement through story sharing, and are working toward building a stronger Idaho through the arts.

Reflection

This project, like any new ideas we carry out, taught us a lot and will allow us to further improve our storytelling training and outreach. The COVID19 crisis added additional challenges, as it changed the way we could not only meet with youth and adults, but the priorities their families had. Extracurricular activities were difficult to prioritize as families faced job changes and losses, school closures, and general anxiety around a changing and uncertain world. Despite all that, the Refugee Speakers Bureau was able to regroup and pivot to digital storytelling and trainings, continuing training around the art of storytelling and the sharing of stories with schools in new ways. One of the silver linings of storytelling in a pandemic was that we could now connect with not only students, but their families. The evening storytelling session with Sage International School, for example, was held around the dinner hour so families could come together and listen to our artists. We were also required to study new ways of storytelling by learning more about best practice in the digital realm, as well as how to use technology to capture and share stories. We look forward to taking the things we have learned during this grant forward, and building on training refugee youth as storytellers and continuing to share these rich stories with our community.

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