Connecting Us One by One: Pocket Stories

“One in every 113 people on the planet is now a refugee.” –World Economic Forum

Numbers. That’s all we see when we turn on the T.V. or come across a news page on our devices. By the end of 2016, 65.6 million individuals were forcibly displaced worldwide as a result of persecution, conflict, violence or human rights violations, according to the UNHCR’s annual Global Trends Report (2016) Sixty five million and six hundred thousand people, human beings, lives.

Sixty five million and six hundred thousand persons that were at one point in their lives, just like how we are today. They too used to wake up, have breakfast, go to school, meet with friends and sit around the dinner table with family at the end of a long day. They too had hopes of growing up and supporting the household, traveling around the world and falling in love. All sounds too familiar, doesn’t it?

Has the crazy thought that those numbers are people with stories and dreams ever crossed your mind? What about the ones that had their right to dream snatched away the second they made it into our world?

MEET INGI MEHUS

No one understood the reason behind my first questions of the interview “can you tell us a bit about yourself; where you’re from, where you were born and where you grew up”. They sounded the same to everyone, except to this amazing lady. Born in South Korea and at the age of just 3 months, Ingi was adopted by a family on the Norwegian countryside. She started travelling since she turned 18 and moved to Australia at the age of 21, loved it so much that she decided to take up her higher education there –Bachelor’s in Communication and a Masters in Global Politics and International Development-.

In the midst of her many travels, she was always in contact with refugees and immigrants through work, -whether it was for the UN in Indonesia, the International Organization of Migration in Tajikistan or at the refugee center in Norway-. She met all kinds of people doing this, people fleeing from Afghanistan and Eritrea, second generation Indonesians, Americans born in Zambia. Throughout hearing all of their stories, she realized she was also a migrant; even though she grew up in Norway in one of its most rural areas, has a very thick farmer’s dialect and has a very Norwegian name, at the end of the day she’s not blonde and doesn’t have blue eyes. This made her come to a very important conclusion; the media shows us asylum seekers as one group of people with the same background but forgets to include ones with a similar story to Ingi’s. She’s a type of migrant but she’s adopted, and that’s how she was able to connect with the refugees, on the journey of finding your own identity.

That’s when she realized she needs to challenge those labels and connect through stories with other migrants and refugees. Thus, Pocket Stories began…

START OF POCKET STORIES

While working as an adviser for refugees and asylum seekers, Ingi met so many people who felt hopeless. She and other co-workers came up with the idea to build a small cultural house that brings together said asylum seekers with locals. After building the cultural house from scratch, they started inviting locals to activities where everyone can show their culture through food, music and art. It was very difficult to build all of this but as soon as they opened, they realized the hard part is actually getting people to come. Even though the center was going well, they came to the realization that the space was still a “refugee center” and carried the negative connotations. That’s when Ingi decided it’s time to change the conversation.

So, without hesitation she launched a blog called “Pocket Stories” where she simply asked people to share their personal stories. Like an Afghan photographer documenting the state of his country beyond poverty, as well as, Ingi herself who went to Somalia and Iran looking at life beyond the regime. Pocket Stories did that for a short time, however, they wanted to start connecting people in person, so they started organizing “storytelling events”- where diverse people gather to tell their stories. The ones that don’t have the courage to talk about their experience would participate in Storytelling Journey workshops where they help you overcome your fear of standing up and speaking . But they still wanted to push and reach people beyond these spaces, and that’s where the idea of the book came from.

WHATS HAPPENING NOW AND FUTURE PLANS

While volunteering in Australia, Ingi used to visit families of refugees to assist them in any way she can. There was this Iraqi family that left a trace on her heart. She was visiting them once a week, getting to know them, practice English and answer their general life questions. Every time, they prepared her a massive dinner no matter how many times she asked them not to. She was in Australia but for those few hours it felt like she was in Iraq, and that’s what the book is trying to capture- how you can travel far away at home.

The book, Roots Guide, was founded by Pocket Stories and Egyptian photographer, Rehab Eldalil. Roots Guide aims to broaden the conversation about migration both in the past and the present and to guide local people through the diverse cultures brought to the Netherlands by migrants. The readers can explore personal stories, food recipes or find places and events that celebrate the world’s cultures across the country. It also includes the history of the Netherlands and what helped shape it. It explores how no country has a definite culture because they all went through migration and during that process they benefited from it, including the Netherlands. Yes there are classic stories about Syrian refugees, but we also have Dutch people moving from one town to another, and third generation Indonesian immigrants. The book is trying to portray that we may look different, eat differently, our names and beliefs might be different but when it comes to the normal everyday connections and values we are so similar. We are all connected to each other.

Pocket Stories is still working hard to create a truly inclusive community. Their current community includes people with different cultural and religious backgrounds, age diversity, and the LGBT community. Yet, they strive to include more politically diverse storytellers into their community. “We need to connect and listen to more people with different opinions from ourselves”.

A MESSAGE TO YOU from Ingi Mehus

Throughout years of working with different people, her perception of herself has changed.

“I have realized that we cannot really change anybody except ourselves. It is too easy to follow our urge to want to change others who think, look or feel differently than we do. But I believe if we want to make a true impact in this world we need to listen more, work on our own assumptions, and be open to change ourselves. By sharing our personal stories, we can lead the way to start a mutual dialogue in order to create a more inclusive future ”

Upcoming event:

Storytelling Journey workshop: Special Edition in Haarlem 16 September 2017.

Everybody has a story to tell. However, each story brings its own bias. Join Pocket Stories to explore your own journey, learn how to tell a powerful story, and challenge your stereotypes and prejudice during our conscious storytelling workshop at the beautiful Dolhuys in Haarlem (next to the train station!). A collaboration between Pocket Stories and the Shah of Holland.