Combining an ‘old’ trade with a ‘new’ one was a pretty lucky coincidence this week. My new ‘trade’ involves the fun of storytelling and the old one being a sexual and reproductive rights activist. The latter being a trade I don’t think I’ll ever really lose and the first one a trade I’d ever want to lose again. The story part was training the Nigerian organisation SFH on the story gathering methodology, most significant change and the activist part was the topic: spreading the use of female condoms in Nigeria.
In short the most significant change methodology tries to find and collect stories that inform you on the possible impact of your work in programmes and projects have on people’s lives. The stories are used to reflect upon the successes and failures of the work you are doing and give an opportunity to learn and make adjustments to your project or programme. Most significant change is not a complicated methodology to explain and at first sight also not a hard methodology to implement, but to do it well, you need to have well-trained story collectors which are really capable of asking the right questions.
For this reason I spent quite a bit of time with the participants on practicing this in role plays. I asked people to really play the role of both the interviewer and the persons they would be interviewing in their communities. And I got a little more than I bargained for. They were so enthusiastic about their roles, and wanting to make them ‘real’ life situations, they started to do the role playing in pidgin English. I could follow it fairly well knowing the topic, but to know their exact questions I had to ask them to switch to regular English, but within minutes they would switch back to pidgin English. At first I thought they were giving their facilitator (a.k.a. me) a bit of run for her money, but after requesting a role play between community interviewer and a pimp, who was asked if his sex workers used the female condom, for the second time to continue in English, my colleague from Oxfam playing the pimp replied: ‘I’m sorry but this pimp running Chrystal’s Paradise doesn’t speak proper English’ I think everybody in the room had a laughing fit, including me.
Besides the laughter, it opened up a conversation on the key challenge with noting down a story as truthfully as possible, which language do you use? Preferably in the storyteller’s language, either his/her local language, but since there are so many in this country, they mostly switch to pidgin English. Unfortunately there is not ‘really’ a standardized pidgin English, that everybody can read and write, which leaves a challenge on how to do this? We didn’t come to one conclusive answer, but it did contribute to the lively debates that took place and in the end the decision to try out the methodology and share their experiences to figure out the best way to move forward.
After the training I had a little encore on the female condom itself. Some of the ladies gave an actual demonstration of their work in the communities to the interns of Oxfam, which was both fun and informative. As a thanks, here’s a little poem from my side.
What do you think you are doing
Being a sensual wo(man)
Why do you want to know
Being a beautiful wo(man)
What else do you want to become
Being a successful wo(man)
Why would you ignore this
Into a carefree wo(man)