Storytelling Stimulates Community Action

Guest Post by Ayuma Michelle, Social Entrepreneur | Leadership Storytelling Coach | Professional Storyteller | Purpose Evangelist

Photo: Rosie Ngure, Moi Girls Alumna

When I started my high school alumnae Facebook Group 4 years ago, I had no idea that it would today be an active community of almost 2,000 alumnae living in different parts of the world. It has grown into an effective community mobilization platform for our first ever and recently second high school reunions. On August 27th, more than 50 old girls dressed in our traditional blue and gathered at our alma mater poolside for our second high school reunion. Backed by 8 corporate sponsors for a worthy cause — OurProject Daybugs School Sanitation Initiative — we also enjoyed catching-up on old times, having fun and networking. My personal highlight was floating in a blue sea of harmony when different generations of our Moi Girls School Nairobi alumnae from early 80’s to 2000’s sang along to the classic hymn After All.

So What Has Storytelling Got to Do with My High School Reunion?

Well, two months before the reunion, Sue Musandu, an alumna (Class of 1989) reached out to me (Class of 2006) for support with community mobilization through social media as part of my role in the reunion organizing team. In my mind, I translated her request as “Digital Storytelling through Public Narrative (Storytelling for Leadership).” This is because the goal was to use social media as a channel to inspire alumnae to take action by:

Step 1: Learning about the current alarming state of sanitation facilities at our former high school. And most importantly, knowing the effect it has on our little sisters currently schooling there.

Step 2: Donating funds of any amount to our project through a variety of mobile money payment channels, which Kenyan mobile technology successfully pioneered. Online options for alumnae in the diaspora were also available.

Step 3: RSVP to our reunion invite on our Facebook group.

Step 4: Share the reunion invitation with more alumnae, and to share ideas about the next steps after our reunion including registering our community as a legal alumnae association.

All the above important calls-to-action couldn’t be effective with just one message, and so I prepared a One-month Social Media Campaign to act as a sounding drum, calling our community to gather and take action. The messaging was dynamic throughout the campaign but the value was always consistent. A member of our reunion organizing team captured it so beautifully:

“It’s about bringing out the Woman in the Girl.” — Catherine Adeya, Class of 1985

We were brought together in the spirit of sisterhood!

At the reunion, even the sun dressed up for our day as it was a lovely sunny day, well-spent with fellow sisters, all dressed in beautiful representations of the colour blue. We enjoyed some tasty food and drink served by fellow sisters, Maggie and Joy, who run a catering enterprise — Simply Delish. We also experimented with nostalgic boarding school food inventions that got us through our seasons of no snacks and being broke. Ha! There was some great music we all sang and danced along to and this reminded us of the fun weekend entertainment we used to indulge in during old times. The most interactive part of our reunion was the raffle draw where our corporate sponsors awarded the lucky winners who had contributed funds to our sanitation project kitty.

Ladies walked home with fantastic gifts: 3 Free iPhone 6S and 3 Free Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge phones by Airtel Kenya; 3 Free Hotel Dinners-for-two courtesy of Sarova Panafric Hotel, Weston Hotel and Ngong Hills Hotel; Salon & Spa voucher by Spalogic Wellness and Beauty Studio; 4 Photo shoot vouchers by Ng’ash Sage Photography; 4 Free Dr. Organic Beauty Hampers; and a Free Music Lesson (instrument) voucher by a fellow alumnus,Winnie, running the Wynton House of Music. The fun competition was on, and it was great witnessing our competitive personalities resurface, like in our yesterdays at high school.

There was also a deeply intimate moment that we all shared, when two candles were lit to represent two blue angels, Lily (Class of 1989) and Stella (Class of 2006), who had recently departed. The candles were lit by our youngest sisters at the reunion, Clara and Oliver, both from Class of 2007. The candles blew out at the end of our reunion. If Lily (who was part of our organizing committee) and Stella who had very voiced personalities were here with us, they would indeed cheer us on with the cause.

Then came the moment to share stories; our committee chose to use story for communication about the project instead of formal speeches. We started by interacting with ladies from different school years and suddenly we realized that there were some recurring themes from our stories. They included: a decline in our school performance from the glory days as a top performance school; a shift in school management vision; a decrease in morale evident in how the current school girls dressed and carried themselves out; and also a strange disconnect in the state of the school between the late 80s and early 2000s. So representatives from the 80s class (Catherine), 90’s class (among the audience) and 2000s class (myself) shared our stories.

It was until I shared my account about my high school days that the audience mood shifted from nostalgia and school pride to shock and urgency to do something about the current state of the school. It was surprising for the ladies to hear the story about the state of the school sanitation facilities. It was a story about a lost school vision, neglect of the development process of school girls, and a hope for imperative change that we had already started by being present at the reunion. After the storytelling, alumnae were moved to take immediate action by sharing their individual contributions to act upon beyond our reunion. All in support of our sanitation project to defend the dignity of current and future sisters at the school.

“I remember an alumna saying that your story about Daybugs [school sanitation facilities] shocked her because she thought that the situation had improved over the years. Do you remember some people asking what the school administration was doing about Daybugs? By the end of the day, they realized that the administration’s vision and our vision are totally different because administrations come and go, but the experience and concern of each alumna remains the same forever.” — Sue Musandu, Class of 1989 (Reunion Organizing Committee)

Presently, we are joining hands to register our alumnae community as a legal entity and we’ve been receiving great support from fellow alumnae and friends who believe in our cause.

If you believe that school girls should have access to great sanitation facilities that add to their health, confidence, dignity and education, I welcome you to join us!

You could do so this way:

  1. Make a contribution of any amount Now to our Project Daybugs crowd funding platform. Or
  2. Reach me via ayumamichelle[at]gmail[dot]com for alternative contributions you might be willing to offer.

So come on…

Join our tribe of pure awesome and make a difference in the lives of bright and promising schools girls in Kenya!

About Ayuma Michelle: I am a social entrepreneur that awakens leadership through authentic storytelling as a skill to effectively motivate change.

I’ve served 135 Women and Girls through Leadership Development workshops (to address global gender gap for female leaders). Most coachees confidently presented their leadership stories and actually inspired positive action in their lives and communities.

Follow Ayuma on LinkedIn.