Educator Insights

Storytelling for Peacebuilding

In my internet research wanderings, I came across an interesting, albeit a few year old blog post on the Desmond Tutu Peace Foundation website. In the post, “Using Stories to Build Peace: An Experience of a Lifetime,” Edward Chinhanhu recounts his experience presenting at the Storytelling for Peacebuilding Workshop at the Royal Bafokeng Institute in Thailand in 2012.

Chinhanhu made an interesting comment that got me thinking: “If you look closely, most conflicts occur because people want only their stories to be listened to, and hardly want to listen to others or put themselves in their shoes. Conflicts are also born out of the bad stories that we hear about us, about others, and about our future. From the workshop it became clear that while we could not change our stories, we needed to face the truth about them in order to understand who we are, because only then can we know our strengths and weaknesses and be able to listen to others with empathy.”

This is true not only of conflicts between members of the same culture and tongue, but of differing cultures and languages. And this is where it seems like language teaching and learning can be a huge bridge-builder for peace.  On the language learning side of things, it provides students opportunities to employ the language they are learning for things they really would like to say–a little dose of intrinsic motivation is always welcome in the language classroom! In regards to specific peace education applications, enabling two parties to speak and hear each other’s stories, and building that storytelling space into our classrooms is incredibly valuable. It allows for the formation of deep empathy and relationships, which in turn leads to greater commitment to working through conflict and growing from it instead of letting it destroy.

This is especially true of language classrooms where students comes from many different backgrounds, hearing from each other, but I would also suggest that it is helpful even for mono-cultural classrooms. Let me share a story from my time teaching in South Korea. While I was away from home teaching, my grandfather died. It was a difficult time, but made easier by the graciousness of my coworkers who made it possible for me to return home for the funeral. I found myself needing to let my students know that I would be gone for a week. I let them know the reason and was surprised to have them begin to ask me questions about my grandfather. “Are you sad teacher?” “Why did you love your grandfather?” and volunteer their own stories of loss of grandparents. It was a cathartic moment for me to share about a beloved person, and hear my student’s stories as well. Our class felt a little closer after that day. It was a wonderful storytelling moment, and made me feel more committed to listening well to my students.

In light of these ideas, here are some questions to think about:

How can we incorporate storytelling as a regular part of our language classrooms?

Where can storytelling be used elsewhere in our own lives for similar relationship-building purposes?

Check out these further resources/articles about storytelling and peacebuilding:

Feed The Minds: STORYTELLING: A tool for promoting peace and literacy: A resource to be used for facilitating storytelling.

Insight On Conflict: Storytelling for Peace: a well-thought out article that explores the topic more in-depth.

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Contributing Author

Abigail Long is a 2012 graduate of Messiah College in Grantham, PA, and a member of Fairview Ave Brethren in Christ Church in Waynesboro, PA. She spent 14 months teaching English in South Korea at the Connexus Language Institute and is deeply interested in the connections between language learning, teaching and peacebuilding.

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