Education, Storytelling, Conversation – The sanctuary of sessions

Education, Storytelling, Conversation – The sanctuary of sessions
30th April 2018

‘I Want To….’ Participants of Townside High School and facilitator Bethan Williams pictured above, during a class activity used to establish personal and collective objectives


During my time as a journalism intern with WIL Uganda, I have been lucky enough to facilitate sessions with many inspiring young women. As the school term ends and this week marks the final sessions with in school youth, here I reflect on the achievements, operational challenges and the things I’ll take away,  from implementing the Teen Voices programme in Busembatia.


Facilitating sessions is just one part of my role here with WIL Uganda. However, the opportunity to foster growth and community engagement on a grassroots level by conducting sessions with in school youth, is one which I fully embrace. I welcome the opportunity to be ‘in the field’ and have direct contact with the local community, a hands-on ability to impact capacity-building amongst young women, it’s refreshing and rejuvenating.


It acts a regular reminder of why I do what I do, and why I feel so strongly about the role of informed women in their own development. I feel honoured to work with such bright and motivated young people. When I am with them, I feel alive and bask in their light and how much they shine with enthusiasm, eagerness and motivation. The girls can be critical and analytical, stubborn and silly, but I know that at the end of it all, they have taken away something for themselves, and that’s what matters.


The way I see it, the role of the sessions is three-fold:

Education– Firstly, to facilitate a safe space for non-formal education on topics that the girls want to know more about. Issues that directly affect them and have meaning or value. This cycle, sessions have focused on teenaged pregnancy, women in leadership (economic, political and social activity), gender equality and gender-based violence, to name a few. The first session helped me formulate a projection of the subjects we would address, I asked them, ‘What do you want to know?’ – I wanted to tailor my content, to match what would maximise their learning.


Storytelling- Secondly, I facilitate their growth and give them the skills and confidence in their own ability to express themselves in written form, to become effective communicators and agents of change within their own communities. Over the past month in particular, I tried to assist the girls in communicating impact through their storytelling and instil the mindset that this is their opportunity to tell their own stories. What do you want to say? Who are your readers? What do you want your readers to know? What does impact mean? How is it achieved? What don’t you like about the way you have been previously represented? How can they communicate their stories in a succinct and solid structure, to ensure relevance and receptivity by a large international demographic?


Conversation- Finally, the above hopefully aids a conversation. I view this with both an internal and external lens and intention. Internally, within Busembatia, and the settings of Standard Senior Secondary School and Townside High School and globally, in terms of output and the published content. The girls’ stories are live, so to speak. They are online, ready and waiting to be read, discussed and their experiences and opinions pondered.


In my opinion, the girls have done remarkably well in communicating ‘from the heart’. This is what I would tell them, every session. I don’t want a story about ‘a woman’ from a ‘far-away land’ (most of their first stories started with something along these lines – third person and about a stranger). I kept repeating myself each time we met, I want a story about YOU- Your story, your opinion, and your voice! This took a long time to develop and for their stories to reflect this. Resistance, shyness and sometimes an inability to break away from acting as one, a class, a collective, not an individual. But they got there. The most recent articles are from their heart and about them, their experiences, challenges, hopes and dreams. I can’t wait for them to be published and available for a worldwide readership.


As I reflect on the way I felt during the first few weeks of my time here, I can see just how much has changed about the sessions and how we conduct ourselves in each other’s company. The girls now come to sessions because they want to, not because they are told to. They are usually on time (although not always- African time is still very much a ‘thing’!), and, the novelty of me being a ‘musungo’ (white person) has worn off for them (and not a moment too soon if you ask me!). No pretence, no judgement, now they see me as Bethan and that’s what I love most, because that’s how I see them too. They are there for themselves, not to see me. They are there because of the skills and knowledge I can transfer, and the information I can assist them to disseminate. Their story, their voice, in their words. They are there because they recognise their own value and ability to make a change and to me, that is so very beautiful.


They don’t see the behind the scenes preparation, the hours of monitoring and evaluation, the case study collections, the editing of articles late into the night, but that doesn’t matter. They see me, stood at the door every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday with a smile. They see me, pestering them to remember to edit their stories and remember their structures and adjectives, but that doesn’t matter either. Because I hope that in the long run, they remember something I told them this week during our last meeting. Something which has helped me in my own navigations through the challenges that being a young woman often presents: Some wise advice I received from my Mum many years ago. “Tell yourself, I can do anything”, and from what I have seen during these three months in Busembatia, they really can.


If you would like to read some of the girls’ stories, please click HERE to find their published content on our blogging partners’ platforms.

By Bethan Williams

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