Quaker Storytelling Project

Quaker Storytelling Project

03 Mar 2015 - By Stephen McIlwaine

Rory Doherty from the Quaker Service who designed and delivered the project, gives an in-depth description of the work and thanks VSB for their support of the project.

Emotional Journeys – Back to the Future

If you could tell a story what would it be? How would you tell it? Who would you share it with?

Everyone has a story to tell – but few people get the chance to tell it, nor do they realise the potential for change, healing and transformation that comes from telling our story and having our story heard. 

This project has left me deeply moved and in awe of the women’s vulnerable openness and honesty, which has led to true friendships. The programme and the process of storytelling have helped form a community from previously bruised strangers.

The process of storytelling as a means of self-evaluation and personal growth for the women has been a journey into their past. The translation of the women’s past into words and images has proved to be an emotionally intense process for all those involved. 

Why are stories so powerful? Because they are transcending, letting you go on a journey to a different dimension. Stories are about connecting with yourself and at the same time they help others to connect with you. When someone tells their story, we listen because it is real, it comes from the inner world. We listen and we find pieces of our own story in others, we connect. Stories offer different angles to look at things we can’t change, they build bridges, find a way out of a maze by lifting us above it. And with just telling our story, we change ourselves. Stories are about getting in touch with your past and at the same time letting it go to make space for the new.

This is why the women have decided to call the project and the booklet ‘Emotional Journeys, back to the future’. The women realise that they have to return to their past, share their experiences, so they can move forward and look to a brighter future. Most the women talk about a past filled with pain, suffering, abuse and addiction. It was the safe supporting environment within the group that empowered the women to share their stories. Some even felt strong enough to disclose dark memories of a troubled past. One woman stated;

“I’ve only recently started opening up about why I have been committing crime. It’s because of what happened to me as a kid – I wasn’t really dumped on that wouldn’t be the word. I was overlooked and left in a situation for too long until the damage had been done. “

The similarities in experiencing trauma enabled the women to offer each other support and the respect they deserve for being brave and courageous going on this emotional journey. Over the weeks a strong bond was formed within the group. They want to be free from the past, free from the haunting memories – they talk about a bright future with many wanting to reconnect with family members whose relationships have suffered through time spent in prison or a mind filled with depression.

 “Emotional journeys – Back to the future, has been really cool. The women in the programme alongside me have been fantastic.  Sometimes things have been tough and everyone has been there for each other - even though no two stories are the same. I will miss everyone once this finishes but one thing I have learnt is it is ok to cry, laugh, trust, and believe in yourself and to be honest and open.”

“The ladies in the group were very nice they encouraged me to share my story, they’re nice ladies I liked them. I feel they have helped me along the journey.”

I would like to thank the artist Michelle from the prison arts foundation for her help and her artist flair, also Inspire and Niacro who have been very supportive with helping promote the project and kindly letting us use their facilities and the Pilgrim Trust and VSB Small Grants Programme who provided the funding. Yet my biggest thank you must be reserved for each of the 8 women who participated in the programme – I hope you are no longer a prisoner of your story and that you are able to let it go and begin to write a new script. 

Hurt and abuse separate us from our true selves and others. Storytelling has the power to bring us together, getting in touch with our true self. The women involved have truly proven that.

“When we no longer are separate from the universe, a completely harmonious existence with the universe is created. We see that all other human beings exist in us and that we exist in all other human beings.” Thich Nhat Hanh

We are currently running the same programme in Mid-Ulster with another group of women. We hope the programme will allow the women an opportunity share their story and be heard. The group is expected to finish at the end of March – then we hope to publish the stories and the artwork in a printed book. 

Rory Doherty

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