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A narrative and story approach to empower cooperation, cohesion and change in communities through non-formal education.
Raising Strong and Resilient Communities
Raising Strong and Resilient Communities
The final conference was organised by SFV and was held in their stately conference room. SFV’s Ann-Sofi Backgren welcomed visitors from different backgrounds: policy makers, trainers, coaches, organisational consultants, storytellers and press.
Peter Fruhmann of Storybag introduced the project’s backgrounds and aims, and the process all partners have gone through. In an interactive session the participants could give their interpretations of what stories imply for people, how they can provide knowledge, information and consolation, how they can entertain and inspire imagination and empathy, how they can help in making plans. The participants also realized that stories can divide, destruct and frame I negative ways, leading to unwanted discourses and stories of shame and blaming.
The handbook (the project’s Output 1) was presented and explained: it is not only a theoretical and richly illustrated basis for future story workers, it also offers a clear structure how to go to work with narrative approaches and stories with(in) communities and furthermore presents a lot of hands-on activities and exercises for very phase of community work. And even more, it also offers ‘good practices’, experiences and suggestions from the participating partners in the project.
After a short break all partners presented their national project and the results they had achieved.
After the presentations project output 2 - the videos - was presented by Betty McNerlin (CERES) and Peter Fruhmann. Throughout the project most of the partners had produced short videos (next to photos) of their work. CERES had collected them all and made a compilation on the project’s YouTube channel. Storybag had also made supporting instructional videos, to illustrate the steps that can be taken throughout a community story project.
Finally, Yvor Broer from In-Dialogue presented the outline and purpose of the courses (Output 3) that had been developed. During multiplying training days in Gouda (NL) In-Dialogue and Storybag had tested the global contents (and some activities) of the courses on an international (European) group of interested participants, some of them working for big NGOs. The content had been received enthusiastically and the general conclusion was that all participants were very likely to attend the full courses when they will be offered and will disseminate them in their organisation and to others.
The conference’s participants were very positive about the results and implications of RSRC and the day ended in exchanging feedback and making new contacts.
Hilversum, the Netherlands
Storybag had been invited by the municipality of Hilversum to hold the 2nd national seminar there. The city of Hilversum (and neighbouring villages) are interested in narrative approaches to facilitate a better dialogue between civil servants and citizens, to narrow the schism between the parties and to create more self-empowered neighbourhoods in cooperation and co-creation with the municipality.
We were able to present the project (plus our explanatory videos) and the results so far, explain the function and effects of working with stories (including narrative practices and the positive effects of Participatory Narrative Inquiry) and also do some workshop activities, like ice-breakers, personal stories, personal mapping and a playful story crafting exercise.
All participants (from different departments) were enthusiastic and are definitely planning to start implementing narrative approaches after this summer. Storybag will (hopefully) be invited to advise, assist and facilitate the start of one or more community projects.
The last cash machine – a story of a homeless
A personal narrative by Peter Frühmann
He should have known but now he saw it in black and white on the screen of the ATM. Only a few Crowns on his account and no more expectations. Just enough for a few teabags. As for the rest, sky high debts. Not just to betting shops, but also to loan sharks with ever-growing interest rates. His study at the University was already in shambles. Probably he thought he had to disappear, to immerse himself in anonymity. It was the beginning of an itinerant life as a homeless, one of approximately nine thousand that Prague counts. All this was eight years ago and for him it was a journey from heaven to hell. That was what he told us.
‘We’ are partners in the Erasmus + project 'Raising Strong and Resilient Communities’, and we met him a few days ago in front of the Central Station. Our Czech partner had arranged a guided walk with him and he also performed as an interpreter. In our project we work with different communities, from unemployed to boat refugees. A community of homeless is absent. We were interested to hear about them.
'He' is an ex-homeless and will tell us pieces of his story while he leads us along places in the neighbourhood. In the past there were more homeless people around and especially in the station, among drug dealers and thieves. There were often battles between dealers, there were violent robberies of passengers and sometimes a homeless was found dead on one of the benches in the station, probably because of a disease or malnourishment. The small park in front of the station had been called 'Sherwood Forest' because of the robberies; but here the thieves did not only steel from the rich.
At one point the municipality had decided to remove all benches from the station and to ban homeless people, dealers and thieves.
He remarks that you can look at life from any angle within 360 degrees, it depends from what angle you do it: looking outside at your perfect table in a warm restaurant, or looking inside with an empty stomach and blue with cold...
Many were left homeless by gambling debts, most by alcohol and drug addiction. A few lost it after being fired, a divorce, or other overwhelming events.
You can make friends on the street, he says, but you also learn that those friendships can be frail. No one was entirely to be trusted.
Now he no longer wandered about, the contact with his former community has become less, mainly because they are always on the move and own no cell phones. Sometimes they sleep at cemeteries in abandoned family graves, sometimes in deserted morgues, or in garbage containers. He tells a macabre story about the latter: in the past it happened that a homeless in deep sleep was thrown out of his container in the garbage van and was crushed together with the waste. Garbage collectors are now obliged to check the presence of homeless in containers before they hook them to the van.
On the question of how he had reviewed his own situation, he answers that he had had both too much and too little time to think about himself, but enough to think about his mistakes. He says that being homeless may also lead to childlike behaviour: no obligations, no responsibility, only dependency.
He takes us to an old section of the station from which he has a key, a hall, unlit. He has never slept here. In the pitch dark, he tells that nowadays this section is only used as the backdrop for historical films. We take photographs blindly and our flashlights illuminate stalactite-like columns, decorated with beautiful art nouveau mosaics. Some are probably designed by the famous Alphonse Mucha.
We continue walking through the city. He shows us the betting shop where he regularly came, we pass a place where homeless people come together. He walks up to a small group and gives them stuff from the large bag that he carries over his shoulder. Several nights a week he shares clothing and shoes. Especially shoes, they are important in a roaming life, especially now it when it freezes.
A little bit later we pass through another station where he shows us the cash machine that gave him the bad news years ago.
The most beautiful moments of his homeless existence were people who gave him a smile or brought along food and sometimes even treated him to the movies. In the end, his rescue had been regaining his faith and the faith of people in him as a person. A few years ago number of university students had founded an organization that ‘rents out’ ex-homeless people to tell their story to interested parties so they can earn some extra money. In a way a living library of homeless, and our guide is one of the books in it.
He works again, he is trained to be a cook and he also acts in a small theatre. He will probably have to pay his debts throughout his life; he is allowed to keep a minimum wage, what rests goes to the creditors. The interest continues to rise; it is the story of the hare that loses to the turtle. But there is hope. His case is now before the courts. A judge will decide whether his debts could be cancelled.
When we have arrived at a square – the end point of the walk – he proudly takes out photos of him as an actor. He also points to a building in front of us: there is a statue of the composer of the national anthem of the Czech Republic. He quotes a fragment: "where my house is...". I ask him where his home is. "In the village I come from, my parents’ house." he says.
We say goodbye to him. I wish him an empathetic judge and a successful career as an actor and chef.
It was but a brief visit to Prague and what I've seen is likely to be superficial. From the homeless I noticed two types in particular.
The on the eye self-sufficient: initially they looked like backpackers, not really shabbily dressed, often with a rolled up blanket buckled to the backpack. The only thing that distinguished them from backpackers, was that they were poking in every trashcan to fish out food or other useful stuff.
The other group is what I call the pilgrims: one encounters them in the narrow streets of the old town or for instance on the popular Karl’s Bridge. Their attitude was striking: for hours they lay motionless on their knees, bent fore over, the forehead on or close to their outstretched arms, eyes closed, their palms facing up. Devout pilgrims. I've never seen such a humble attitude, a blind surrender to the passer-by, complete atonement. Sometimes you see a dog’s head between the arms that every now and then licks the hands of the boss.
It was twelve degrees below zero.
It confused me because this specific image seemed to enforce compassion. But how real is my compassion? How sincere is the attitude of the man I see bending? I cannot interrogate him on the authenticity of his attitude; I don't even speak its language. His dog is maybe more comforting than the little money that I redeem my discomfort and doubt with. Or do I give the money for the warm-blooded comforter, the innocent dog?
I can ask our guide no longer, these questions came the day after our meeting, maybe I did not dare to ask him. I don’t know. I took the confusion back home.
I think of our guide. Which perspective do I see? And do I merely describe it or am I going to work with it?
Limavady, Northern Ireland
For this project, Raising Strong & Resilient Communities, all of the partners are seen as the storytellers of Europe, using stories and oral exercises as educators, trainers, coaches, mentors and instruments of change.
Ceres Europe has a strong training ethos within the cultural and historical area of the Roe Valley region and beyond. In addition to training people for qualifications which lead to employment, Ceres staff and management believe in using social media and ICT to embrace the rich diversity of Irish, Scottish & English heritage which fills the small villages and towns in the Roe Valley. Music, poetry, dance & storytelling draws people together and informal learning spans across all ages, all religions and can be embraced by both formal and informal organisations. It is intended that the outcomes from this project will be used by all community members in the area and beyond.
Betty McNerlin MBE from Ceres Europe hosted an Educational Symposium in the Roe Valley Arts & Cultural Centre on Thursday 7th January where there were senior representatives from UK Awarding Bodies, Assessors, Quality Assurance staff, teachers, trainers and Heads of Departments across a range of sectors to listen to Mr Peter Frühmann, head of the organisation called “Storybag” in The Netherlands.
Peter Frühmann of Storybag was invited as a guest speaker at the Knowledge Workshop of the L’AQUA meeting held 17 – 18 September 2015 in Leeuwarden, Netherlands. The L’AQUA project deals with ‘Legends and myths on water for European tourist routes’.
Peter first introduced the concept and the broad scope and objectives of the RSRC project. After that he presented a few methods (from the RSRC handbook) that could be interesting to implement in the story collecting activities of L’AQUA, like transect walks, Chapati diagrams, community mapping and one-on-one (story) interviews. He also illustrated these methods on basis of two of past personal initiatives connected to regional and local stories and legends in Scotland, which had led to touristic activities (Argyll and Bute) and also more cohesion in local communities (Isle of Islay). The conclusion for the touristic sector was: “If you find something on the surface, interesting, but if you take the effort to dig deeper, you’ll find (inspiring) treasures that you can share” with communities (e.g. tourism workers, tourists). The presentation was received enthusiastically.
The meeting was held at the rural Hoorneboeg Estate, a place that originates in the 18th century and which is now a relatively remote venue for conferences and meetings. It is surrounded by woods and moorland and close to the city of Hilversum.
The purpose of this meeting was to present each other good practices of community storytelling from different partner countries all partners aligned for the next phases.
Day 1 was arrival day and partners trickled in at Hoorneboeg until evening when we had dinner and pre-meeting talks in the centre of Hilversum.
Day 2 concentrated on all partners presenting their chosen communities, direct and indirect beneficiaries and their most important themes and (possible) needs for change and empowerment. Every presentation was followed by a short discussion and some (methodological) questions were reserved for day 2.
After lunch (and a short walk through the estate) we continued with good practices presentations that were also discussed and further explained.
At the end of the day we all departed to Amsterdam to have an extensive and very entertaining evening story-walk with storyteller Nancy Wiltink. She told us thrilling and romantic stories along spots in North Amsterdam, a real ‘sense of place’ experience followed by a copious Italian dinner on the banks of the river IJ.
The theme of day 3 was approaches and methodology. There were some questions to answer about the first draft of the manual. All was presented again and discussed and extensively explained. After that next steps were arranged and agreed on.
It was an intense and satisfying meeting. Now we really go to work!
Today and tomorrow, Accoglierete will be present with a video-documentary at an important national seminar in Catania, Sicily. The seminar is devoted to the Future of Immigration across the Mediterranean Sea and the consequences for (local) communities in Italy and Europe. Speakers will be present from different governmental and non-governmental institutes, to name a few: UNHCR, community representatives and representatives of legal authorities, the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the European Commission and the European Parliament.
RSRC is proud that our partner is actively present at this important event.
We started with three interesting presentations. Ann-Sofi Backgren from SFV introduced us to thje diverse and captivating and history of Finland and also to the history of the Swedish speaking minority, represented by SFV. Camilla Nordblad gave an introduction to the work of SFV and then Stella Mattsson gave even more detailed information concerning SFV Bildning.
The partners introduced their organisations and fields of work and we had lunch together.
The afternoon session started with a presentation by Ms Eija Laine from CIMO, the Finnish National Agency. We got a lot of useful information about rules and regulations concerning Erasmus+ and the administrative consequences for our project.
After a discussion on management and administration we embarked on a tour of Helsinki with Camilla Nordblad as our all-knowing guide along the city’s attractions, with Jean Sibelius’ impressive monument as one of the highlights.
We had a delicious dinner in a typical Finnish restaurant.
The second day started with administrative questions and a comprehensive presentation by Peter Frühmann (Storybag) on the structure and the development of the content of the project. Betty McNerlin from our Northern-Irish partner CERES attended via Skype. A discussion followed - in a very cooperative atmosphere - about filling in the details and the distribution of work.
After lunch we dug deeper into the intellectual outputs, communication about the project and again the distribution of tasks. The dates for the next meetings in 2015 were set.
We concluded that it had been a very fruitful and convivial meeting!