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Storytelling as resistance

Refugees and locals work together in a self-organized publishing house on Lesvos to spread stories of inclusion, empowerment and diversity.

Photo of Vonne Hemels

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What problem does the idea help to solve and how does your solution work? (2,000 characters maximum)

Since 2015, Lesvos has been a hotspot where millions of refugees arrived from Syria, Afghanistan, Eritrea, Congo and many other places. Since the EU-Turkey deal in 2016, geographical restrictions have led thousands of refugees stranded on the island, waiting for the outcome of their asylum claim in unbearable conditions. The main transit camp, Moria, is designed to host 2000 people. It currently hosts around 8000, with many people staying for over two years. People have little to do, and medical organizations report on extremely high numbers of depression and suicide attempts. While the locals initially reacted with solidarity and hospitality, the financial crisis, political games and the hopelessness of the situation have lead to an increasingly anti-migration discourse, with fascists groups growing in importance and a significant increase in violent racist attacks. Mainstream media depicts refugees as either helpless victims or dangerous perpetrators. We believe their image needs to change, and they themselves are the best people to enable that. We work together with local Greeks and refugees who are interested in alternative storytelling and we intend to publish books, zines, journals, posters, etc, that promote a culture of tolerance and solidarity rather than distrust and violence. We don't make a lot of money selling books, but enough to contribute to an income for the people and groups that we collaborate with. With our idea we offer a meaningful activity for refugees and locals, while at the same time challenging the increasingly dominant anti-migration narratives that are alive on the island.

Geography of focus (500 characters)

We work on Lesvos island in Greece where refugees from many different backgrounds reside. We have been here for the past years publishing books together with many different people. Because the refugee community is so diverse, conflicts arise frequently. Therefore we believe that working together through storytelling workshops and publishing simultaneously serves as an important aspect of peacebuilding. Besides, with fascism on the rise, we believe it is urgent to challenge harmful narratives.

Building Bridges: What bridge does your idea build between people on the move and neighbors towards a shared future of stability and promise? (500 characters)

Bringing together locals Greeks and refugees from different communities, we have seen that creating and publishing together is an incredibly bonding experience. Besides, these publications directly influence the opinions of others, and may serve as a platform for dialogue between people with many different opinions. Besides publishing we also intend to host discussions, readings and exhibitions to bring people together and discuss in real life.

What human need is your idea solving for? (1,000 characters)

We look further than the 'refugee experience' that is victimizing and identitarian. We do not ask somebody: 'What is the worst thing that ever happened to you?'. We stimulate creativity, friendship and humanity. We believe this contributes to human dignity. Besides, publishing a book or zine is an incredibly humbing experience, something to be proud of, something to remember. We know people who carry the book they contributed to in their backpacks for years now, showing it to everybody who wants to see.

What will be different within the community of focus as a result of implementing your idea? (1,000 characters)

Diversity of stories contribute to a more nuanced image of people. We hope that our books, zines and posters will help people have a better understanding of 'the other'. We know that we can never entirely eliminate racism and xenophobia but we also know that stories have an incredible impact on the human mind. Many people are willing to understand, but haven't been able to. We will reach out to those people, in ways that can help them to truly be released of the fear of the other.

What is the inspiration behind your idea? (1,000 characters)

The idea came about after running a 2-year workshop at Mosaik Support Centre, a local school in Mytilini for refugees and locals. The workshop, called 'Storytelling as Resistance', focused on many different ways of storytelling: verbal, music, theatre of the oppressed, writing, drawing, etc. Attended by many different people from Syria, Afghanistan, Nigeria, Uganda, Iraq, and many more, the experience was incredible. Towards the end, the group decided to publish a book and the impact on the community (as well as internationally) was surprising. People loved it, were touched by it, learned from it. And the people who made it were proud, happy with what they made. We decided to focus more on publishing and in order to localize the production we bought a risograph printer and other supplies to print. Now we offer skill-based workshops that focus on storytelling and printing, and we wish to make many more publications with many many more groups of incredibly resilient and creative people.

Describe the dynamics of the community in which the idea is to be implemented. (1,000 characters)

After almost three years working and living on Lesvos we know our community well. We work together with groups of LGBTQI+ refugee youth, single mothers, single men, children, activists, Greek friends, students and many more. Some groups are more vulnerable than others, for example LGBTQI+ refugees face a lot of discrimination and violence, in the camp as well as outside. Police violence against refugees is frequent. People feel vulnerable, scared and stressed. Many people want to make something out of their life. They feel like their life is on hold. They are often young, in their twenties, and studied or worked in their home countries. They take anything to do: English classes, workshops, music. Some people were journalists, writers, artists. We connect with them and work together. Some became part of the team, others come by sometimes. The Greeks we know are tolerant, kind, with solidarity. They know their neighbours and how to reach them. The activists we know are determined, warm.

How does your idea leverage and empower community strengths and assets to help create an environment for success? (1,000 characters)

(https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fzDnSqPjSlU&t=153s) The video included was a project we did at Mosaik Support Centre. Together with a group of creative and aware migrants we made a short experimental documentary about their daily lives. It became a story about borders, migration and resistance. We know that it is empowering to resist. It is empowering to challenge, to change. We believe that standing on the side of the oppressed communities and giving them the tools they need to share their stories is a form of activism can work because it is bottom-up. We do not intend to tell people what to do, we just share the skills and help people create what they want to create. Some refugees are poets, some are writers. Helping them to publish their books can change their lives as well as the minds of the people who read it.

What other partners or stakeholders will work alongside you in implementing the idea, if any? (1,000 characters)

We work with Lesvos LGBTQI+ Refugee Solidarity, a shelter for single mothers, Mosaik Support Centre, and many independent activists, refugees and other people in solidarity.

What part of the displacement journey is your solution addressing

  • Being on the move, crossing borders, and/or temporarily settled

Tell us how you'd describe the type of innovation you are proposing

  • Platform: Creating a community or market that facilitates interaction between users and resources

Idea Proposal Stage

  • Pilot: We have started to implement the idea as a whole with a first set of real users. The feasibility of an innovation is tested in a small-scale and real world application (i.e. 3-15% of the target population)

Group or Organization Name

Boom Boom Tales

Tell us more about your group or organization [or lived experience as a displaced person?] (1000 characters)

Boom Boom Tales was founded by Vonne Hemels in The Netherlands, after having done storytelling projects in several places worldwide. Working together with an ever increasing team of activists on Lesvos, they decided to take their activism to the next level and register as an NGO. We believe in a structure that is non-hierarchical, independent and political. We are connected to likeminded people on the island. We believe in diversity, of people and of ideas. We like a challenge, we like to learn, we like to try new things. We are not afraid of anything, except of standing still. We keep making, creating, trying, discussing, working, laughing, sharing... And we believe in each other and the world as a better place for everybody.

Website URL:

www.boomboomtales.blog

Type of submitter

  • We are a registered Non-Profit Organization

Organization Headquarters: Country

The Netherlands

Organization Headquarters: City / State

's-Hertogenbosch

In preparation for expert feedback: What are three unanswered questions or challenges that you could use support on in these categories? These questions will be answered directly by experts matched specifically to your idea. (600 characters)

- What are best practices in non-hierarchical community-based organizing? What solid decision-making processes are known to experts? - What innovative ideas exist about book promotion and distribution? - What network exists globally that are concerned with storytelling, social justice and alternative political theory?

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Photo of Sevde Şengün
Team

Hello Vonne Hemels , there is only 8 hours left to end Improve Phase. So I friendly remind you with the support of your expert feedback, it will be great to answer Additional Questions before the time expires. Especially
-In what ways would potential BridgeBuilder funds allow you to pursue your idea that other funding opportunities have not?
-What are the key steps or activities for your idea for implementation in the next 1-3 years?

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