The following story was brought to you by the Richardson Center for Global Engagement which supported two storyteller trainers to work with a civic education and internship program in Taunggyi, Shan State. The 20 students come from varied backgrounds: three religions, 16 ethnic groups and many states and divisions in Myanmar. The mission was to give community activists another tool to use for their peacebuilding activities. This is a part of the Center’s support for peace programs in Myanmar.
On September 29, two storyteller trainers from Yangon took to the road to work with 20 young people from throughout Myanmar. When they arrived in Taunggyi, Shan State they were met by young people whose heads were full of new ideas from their time at Theik Khar Myanmar, an innovative program that teaches about social science, art, English and peace. They were all hungry for tools to use in their pursuit of changing minds and behaviors for their next adventure of teaching people in rural communities after their studies. The two storytellers came and shared their tools with these bright young stars so they could bring the message of peace to others.
On the first day, the storytellers worked with the young students to understand the importance of a good story. Storyteller One used an example of how a story can be transformative without being preachy. Storyteller Two helped the students figure out how to use their bodies to communicate. The students loosened up both their minds and bodies and let the creativity start to flow. In Myanmar, students generally are not encouraged to use their imaginations in classrooms. Repeat-after-me lessons are the norm.
Once everyone was comfortable in their new transformations, Storyteller One and Storyteller Two guided the groups through creating their own wonderlands using story. The groups worked together to create stories that were fun and educational and interactive. Each story had a flawed hero who overcame adversity to lead in their community. Each story echoed what the students hoped to do in their own small worlds.
When pen was put to paper and the stories were in writing, they needed to come to life through the students. The students metamorphosed into the characters of their stories and learned what it was like to become someone else and entertain an audience while still educating about peace and harmony. Some who were shy stuck to the walls, some who were bold took center stage. All found their way to make the team stronger and the message a bit clearer.
Storyteller One encouraged them to make some edits. Storyteller Two gave them tips on movement, all the while making sure that at the end of the day, the little ones in Myanmar would be excited to see their big performance.
The Storytellers had opened a flood gate to release the imaginations and props and costumes and sets were created. All for the sake of sharing a story that changed minds in communities and empowered the players
On the last day when the clock struck one, hundreds upon hundreds of students piled in to the monastery where little boys and girls dressed in robes joined little boys and girls dressed in traditional attire to listen to these new tales. Completely enraptured, they sat patiently, listening to the weavings of storyteller newbies. From the littlest ones in front to the tall ones in back, the children hollered responses when the storytellers asked.
The two storytellers left Taunggyi but there still remained a space transformed into another world where students could create their own situations where anything could happen. Two hundred children’s books were given to libraries and schools in the area for more opportunities to learn. And Storyteller One and Storyteller Two hope to travel to other magical places where they can meet other brilliant students looking for adventures right in their own classrooms.
One of the four stories written and performed by the participants:
The Star and the Stone
Once upon a time there was a star in the sky and she was very happy because everyone loved stars. But her fellow stars didn’t appreciate her up in the sky so she thought maybe if she joined the people who loved her down below, she would be happy. The star decided to come down to the earth and be with those who admired her.
There once was a stone who was not happy on the ground because people on earth didn’t value her. She envied the stars and wanted to live in the sky.
One day while the stone was thinking about life in the sky, she happened upon the newly arrived star. The star said, “Hi! I have just arrived from the sky because no one appreciated me up there. Down here I can be better appreciated.”
“Really?” said the stone. “I was thinking the same. Maybe people would appreciate me more if I floated in the sky.”
So they tried to make it happen. The star picked up the stone and threw her into the sky but she kept falling to earth. Again and again they tried.
“I don’t know how to help you. Sorry,” said the star.
The star was very happy living on the earth but she burned very brightly in her new home.
One day, a brother and his sister came to the area for vacation. “Hey it’s too hot,” said the brother. “It used to be nice and cool when we came here.”
Little sister said it was because the star had come down from the sky and was making it too hot. “Why did you come down here, little star? You were so beautiful when you twinkled in the sky.”
Star realized what they were saying and decided she should go back to the sky. “If I am not in the sky, people won’t understand how special I am.”
Little sister said to her brother, “Hey, look at the beautiful stone in the river. Without beautiful stones like this, our favorite area wouldn’t be as beautiful.” They sat back and admired the land and all the things on it, including the stone. This made the stone very happy.
The stone shouted up to the star, “Well, I guess you don’t need to be in a new place to be appreciated. You can shine right from where you are. This is my home and I am happy.”
“Me too!” said the star. And the star admired the stone from the sky and the stone admired the star from the earth.