Ten courageous and talented refugee and asylum-seeking women in our network took part in Telling your story with a purpose, a public speaking and storytelling course delivered by Ginger. Course facilitators, Rona and Jojo, share their reflections on the programme.
Words from Rona Steinberg:
One of the many things I love about being a public speaking coach and trainer for Ginger is that I get to meet the most remarkable people. This has never been truer than over the past couple of months, as Jojo Thomas and I delivered a series of workshops to a group of women refugees from the incredible charity, Women for Refugee Women.
I first met the organisation’s Director, Natasha Walter, a few years ago at a TedX Covent Garden event where I was one of the coaches. I was impressed then by Natasha’s commitment to helping women refugees who, having faced unimaginable challenges in their home country, arrive here only to encounter still more difficulties and hardship. When I met Marchu Girma, the organisation’s grassroots coordinator, earlier this year at a charity lunch, it seemed inevitable that we should work together.
Before long Jojo and I were sitting down to design a programme that would enable our participants to share their stories, not just with passion and fluency, but, crucially, with a sense of purpose and mission. This particular group had been chosen to join the programme because of how far they had already come in their own journeys, and also because it was felt they had the kind of leadership qualities required to influence and persuade.
It was great working with Jojo on designing something we thought would be well received, but it was only when we arrived at the organisation’s headquarters for our first session that we realised what an incredible experience we were going to have. For the truth is that, despite all the terrible hardships that these courageous, feisty, funny, brilliant women have gone through (and are still going through), each one of them has retained their sense of fun, determination to make the most of their time with us, and, most importantly their hopes for their futures.
As the weeks progressed and their stories started to unfold, we were continually humbled by the women’s courage and forbearance – they spoke of being abandoned as young children, experiencing violence, trafficking, running for their lives, leaving their young children behind as they attempted to create a future here for their families, sleeping on park benches and on cold floors of railway stations. Here in the UK they have experienced racism, rejection, exploitation, heartbreak and loneliness.
Their tears flowed as did ours and yet … and yet; not once did I feel that they saw themselves as victims. One minute they’d be speaking of terrible atrocities, and the next they’d be laughing, breaking in to beautiful song, or throwing themselves in to the next exercise. We soon learnt that it was pointless to ask (as is usual in public training sessions), whether they were nervous – they didn’t seem to understand the concept, so eager were they for the chance to learn how to communicate their stories more skilfully.
They saw this programme as an opportunity and they were determined to make the most of it. One day I remarked on one of our participant’s beautiful notetaking and she turned to me and said, “I want to be the best public speaker I can be.” I will never forget those words, spoken so solemnly and with such heart and determination.
I learned so much in that room; about the human spirit, about how when everything seems hopeless you can still find hope; about faith and the power of prayer when there really seems there’s nothing and no one left to help you. I learnt about resilience, about the power of women to rise up and determine their own fate against the most terrible of odds. I also heard how grateful they all are to Women for Refugee Women, which has befriended them, and seeks to empower and support them. It has just been the most beautiful, moving and heart-warming experience. At the end of the programme, as we hugged and said our goodbyes, they asked if we would return to be with them again. And of course, we will.
Words from Jojo Thomas:
Rona and I prepared very carefully for our series of workshops with Women for Refugee Women. We felt instinctively that it was essential to provide as much clarity and value as we could in a very short space of time, and we thought long and hard about presenting a series of exercises and ideas that felt logical and powerful. We also braced ourselves for a lot of emotion, anticipating that many of the stories that would be revealed over the course of the programme would be harrowing, shocking, and deeply personal.
The one thing we didn’t prepare ourselves for was just how much fun we were going to have. In every possible way, this series of workshops was easy and energising. Women for Refugee Women, represented by the fabulous Marchu and Monica – who both participated with gusto and courage – made us so welcome, providing a safe and comfortable space in which we could play and explore.
As Rona has already said, one of the first things we usually encounter with budding speakers is nerves. There’s often a reticence in people to stand up and show their true selves. Not so here! These amazing women don’t have the time or energy to be nervous; they are too busy battling to carve lives of meaning and purpose and joy out of great struggle.
It was a humbling and inspiring lesson to me to see them show up, week after week, with neither self-pity nor self-consciousness. Their ferocity, sass, wit, humour, intelligence, and sheer grace made Rona and I smile, laugh, cry and, on many occasions, look to each other with a silent “wow”.
I’ll never forget an exercise we did right at the beginning of the course, where we asked the women to think about the ‘why’ of storytelling. What was their purpose, their big dream for their stories? These are the words they shared with us:
- Don’t give up!
- Not alone!
Of all the moving moments we shared during our sessions together, this is probably the one I will remember the most; The way in which they just got it, on a profound, heartfelt level. Helping to give these women a voice was a privilege and a pleasure from start to finish. I can’t wait to see what they will go on to do in the future, and I can’t wait to come back and work with them again.
We’d love to be able to run this course again for more women who have come to the UK to seek safety, to support them to feel empowered to speak out effectively. If you can help, please donate at: www.tinyurl.com/givetoWRW