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How storytelling workshops have helped women to break their silence

11 December 2015

Women's-storiesLast month, former BBC reporter and producer, Jude Habib, who is now director at digital media and storytelling company sounddelivery, wrote about her work with the Maya Centre. The charity aims to empower women with experience of trauma and violence and Jude has helped them to record their personal testimonies as a way to aid the recovery process. 

Here, Jude reflects on the hugely difficult but rewarding project, which has been backed by a £6,500 Awards for All grant from the Big Lottery Fund.

The Maya Centre works with women who have experienced severe trauma from domestic violence, childhood abuse, or overseas in war and conflict. The charity offers free counselling and other support to promote mental health to the most deprived and vulnerable women in the UK. It is often a lifeline.

The charity’s motto is Talk Enables Change but it is one thing to sit in a counsellor’s room and speak to a professional; quite another to reveal the most intimate details about yourself to complete strangers.

Read Jude’s Big Blog on the importance of discussing sensitive subjects so vulnerable people can have their voices heard.

That was the aim of the MyVoice project: to help Maya Centre service users who have experienced unimaginable hurt and stress to tell their stories to each other and then record their stories to share them more widely.

Evidence suggests that the sharing of personal stories of people affected by domestic violence and other traumas outside therapy can be very positive in helping with recovery.

More broadly, it is also hugely important in reaching out to others in similar situations and helping them to get help, challenging social perceptions, and shaping government policy and funding decisions.

A difficult journey

I couldn’t have imagined how difficult and emotional this experience would be. We spent five weeks preparing. We started by listening to and critiquing examples of powerful audio storytelling and reading compelling blogs. We recorded ideas from the first workshop as the women became less fearful of the microphone and more confident to record each other.

But even after all the ground work and preparation, some women were understandably still scared to record their testimonies. Despite their misgivings, all of them showed up and shared some of the most heart-wrenching, shocking, and powerful stories I have ever heard.

They talked about childhood sexual abuse, rape, domestic violence, mental health traumas, and grief that had not been addressed.

We all listened in silence as the final edited stories were played to the group. All of us unaware of the secrets the women had been hiding. I cannot describe the power of us collectively listening back to these stories. But it was clear. They had broken their silence and found their voice.

I feel extremely privileged to have been involved. My role in supporting the women and giving them the skills and confidence to share their stories more publicly was a difficult one to navigate. I wanted to protect the women from further hurt but also recognised the healing role of storytelling.

When we started the workshops the women told me they felt voiceless and wanted to “get it out”.  One said: “I refuse to be silent to make others feel better”. On the final workshop they told me they felt “lighter” and “empowered”.

The project was ambitious and we had to refine it as we went along, but the feedback from the women involved was very positive, and so I feel justified in saying it was a success.

I want to thank the women whose bravery and inner strength has given them the courage to tell their stories.  We really hope that these stories will now reach a wide audience and help others in a similar position to realise that are not alone and that help is available.

Finding your voice can be daunting, but telling your story is one of the most empowering things you can do. Don’t be afraid of asking for help.

You can follow the charity  @mayacentre 

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