Coordinating the project has been amazing, especially because half way through I got a coordinating buddy. Claudia arrived 2 days before Sam and Michelle from GlobalGiving came to visit us. She got a very good introduction to the organisation and soon after we teamed up for the storytelling project. That also created new possibilities, since a lot of people in the local community of all ages speak German as a second language. With good research skills and a great background in volunteering with non-profits we made a great team!
We have learnt a lot from doing this project. We got to meet many amazing people, and although at first we thought we might be a bit annoying (asking everyone we met for stories), soon they started to help us get more people to interview, and we witnessed a lot of solidarity and team-work. It was probably the more sceptical people that helped us reach out to their connections, to the point where they would always ask how the project was going, and always try to help us find more people to interview. They became a part of the project, despite me never even imagining it would go like this. In the end in CIM we didn’t really do this the ‘traditional’ way’. Despite recruiting a team of volunteers in the beginning, the progress was very slow, and being under pressure, we had to begin collecting stories as well. What resulted from this though was that there is now a large group of people in Sanski Most, most not affiliated to CIM, who know exactly what the project is about and who believe it is something more people should take part in. We spoke so much about this, and advertised it to the point that some locals will probably remember this for years to come. Normally when you meet with people for a coffee, or go out the first thing they ask is ‘how are you?’. In our case, it is ‘how are you and how many stories do you still need?’. People we got to know this summer also know the story question, and tell others what we look for specifically when trying to get them on board to share their stories. They don’t do this because they have an incentive, but because they now believe the GlobalGiving storytelling project is very interesting. Some people specifically think it is a great idea to gather data and are impressed by the method used. Everyone is grateful for coffee though. Thanks, GlobalGiving!
When I first came to Bosnia some people were asking how many stories we needed. I said ‘at least 100’. They didn’t really believe we would manage. It took longer, but the secret ingredient to gathering these stories was trust, and people buying into it. It wasn’t necessarily about locals or foreigners doing it, but about people getting used to the project itself.
One day we interviewed E. He agreed to do the interview, but ‘only because he knew me’. When we finished getting the stories, he said it would be much easier for him to tell us stories whilst hiking, or out in the nature. We could walk and he could tell me 100 stories, not just two. The context did not suit him as much. In a way I do believe that would be a great way to collect stories: by just living here, exploring what this place is all about by just doing what the locals do, whether that means sitting in a caffe all day having strong coffee, or hiking in the mountains around Sanski Most. With every story, you could then ask if you could record it. I’m sure the answer would always be positive. Another example of this was D. He found it very hard to think of ‘stories to tell’ when I first asked him. One evening we were out together and he was telling us story after story: let me tell you about this, about that, and I observed how natural it was for him to tell us about all of these events in that environment compared to how long it took to find to stories to tell me when we sat down for that specific purpose. For this very reason, I will try to train new volunteers on how the project works, and encourage them to document these stories by just ‘living here’. That means, whenever they hear a story they believe needs to be documented to kindly ask if they could do it. If the people trusted you to tell you that story in the first place, they will most likely trust you to write it down as well.
Today, we interviewed a friend of a friend of a friend. When A. came to pick up his drums from the CIM office for a local concert I asked if any of the two friends he brought with him spoke English or German. He said one of them did. Claudia came down, and set up an interview with one of A’s friends and we got two very distinct stories from him. In fact not only did we get two stories, but we also managed to convince him to become a volunteer with the organisation. He was really impressed both with the project we were doing and the work of CIM so he decided he would help further and ask some other friends. Today we met with him and his friend K, and after we got two stories, K said he was very happy he was asked to do this, because it was very interesting to him. He used the word ‘inspiring’ to refer to our meeting. He further mentioned he would have never done it unless his friend asked him to. I then asked what would happen if I or a local person stopped him on the street and asked if he had time for a short interview. He said he would have ‘lied’ about all these things he had to do, and refused politely. He also said most people would do the same. K was not the only person who said that though. A lot of people said they decided to do it only after spending some time with us and got to know more about the project.
The storytelling project also motivated us to use a more story-centred approach in our programmes, be it though social media, our newsletters, or grant writing. This year is CIM’s 10th anniversary, and it will also be the first year we will have an annual report. It was always suggested, always considered, always recommended though there was very little capacity for it. I am hoping the new local volunteers we recruited will also get involved in writing CIM’s 2014 story in the shape of an annual report.