The following blog is a beautifuly story of cross-cultural sharing and capacity building from Julian Mocine-McQueen of theMillion Person Project.  Julian and Heather (who coordinated the 10/10 actions in East Asia with have years of organizing experience and are traveling the world linking up with 350 activists and running trainings on personal story-telling and other organizing skills to build a more powerful global climate movement.  Here’s a report-back from their first workshop:

I opened my eyes in Vietnam Sunday morning to a stomach full of nerves. I heard the scooters honking outside, the vendors yelling – I looked over at Heather and thought, well here goes nothing. It was our first big workshop in Vietnam, we were going to be training 16 twenty-something Vietnamese activists on how to tell their personal story in relation to their work. We have both done this workshop many times back home but this was our first time abroad. This training has been so valuable to me personally and has allowed me to understand my own story so much, but the question today was, will it translate?

Will we be able to communicate the simple, but potentially linguistically complex elements  to the participants, most of whom understand English and speak it…sorta, but only sorta.  Hong Hoang, our host and leader of 350 Vietnam assured us it would be useful and had clearly prepared her team for what was to come.

Heather and I started out with a mixer of sorts and got everyone on their feet and laughing, and we were off. Just as Hong promised, these people were ready. As Heather and I struggled to s-p-e-a-k s-l-o-w-l-y it became clear that, stories translate! Through the course of the afternoon, and as people revealed their stories, Hong looked at us time and again with her mouth open. She was learning about her team, they were learning about each other and Hong was so impressed by how freely they were sharing. Meanwhile, Heather and I were learning how much can be communicated through body language, volume, inflection and tone. Lets be clear, we could not understand a word.

The workshop was given in English, but when they shared their story they did so in Vietnamese. But more than once we grew silent as someone shared a personal moment or experience with the group, and joined in the applause as someone ended their presentation with a theatric appeal or dramatic explanation point. People paced the room looking every inch the swaggering politician, people pleaded with their fellow students with their voices, and eyes, and people shared pieces of their story that were painful, embarrassing, but above all inspiring…and this was just practice!

As the day came to a close, I looked around the room and marveled at the incredible young people who opened their minds and hearts to our workshop, and at stories and the power they have to bring us together. We have a series of quotes on the front page of the workbook we’ve created and one of them is by Nigerian poet and novelist Ben Okri, it states “A people are as healthy and confident as the stories they tell themselves. Stories can conquer fear, you know. They can make the heart larger.” I couldn’t help but think about this and know that as long as we are helping people to tell their stories in a real and honest way, the workshop and our work will translate. (As long as we s-p-e-a-k s-l-o-w-l-y).

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