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A child's picture is worth a thousand adult words – Storytelling without borders

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What happens when you give people a chance to talk about themselves with pictures they have made?

In June, 104 young refugees in Sweden spent three days on the island of Gotland experimenting with video animation. Working with film experts, they created their own stories in a way that could speak to everyone, whatever their background and language.

At the Gotland workshop, four film educators from Historieberättarna helped the children, by offering them techniques in stop-motion video featuring simple hand-made characters. It was part of a project, Storytellers without Borders, run by creative arts and humanitarian organisations in Sweden, Greece and Denmark, that lets children create images that can speak for them.

The essence of the project (http://storytellingwithoutborders.com/) is that the films let the refugees tell their own stories about themselves, and tell them in their own way. Some of them have very sharp edges. (http://historieberattarna.se/filmer/ensam-i-natten/). Historieberättarna's work with refugees also includes this one, (http://historieberattarna.se/filmer/resan-till-sverige/), recounting the hazardous journey from a world of conflict to the tranquillity of new surroundings. It was made in less than days by a group of nine young refugees.

QUOTES

9 year old girl from Syria: "I loved working with all material. Glitter, clay and paper. I created a drawing with other children. We listened to music and got to choose tracks ourselves. It all made me happy."

17-year old boy from Afghanistan: "I often feel lonely. I created a valley I remember from Afghanistan."

"We aim to overcome language barriers through storytelling with pictures and film," says Anusha Caroline Andersson, the founder and director for Historieberättarna (which means storytellers in Swedish), and one of the organisations running the project. "We never tell the children what their stories should be about. We let them express whatever they want - it could be a dream, a memory, or just a fantasy." She says that the advantage of using animation is that it allows the refugees themselves to remain as anonymous as they wish. "We always work in a co-creation process with participants, which means it takes a little longer time, but the result and the cooperation is more, in our experience, in the long-term."

She tells of her surprise when a boy from Afghanistan said to her: "This is the first time anyone has asked me about myself and not treated me just as a refugee". She said she put together this project to show that these are children, not only numbers – "real people with real stories, just like you and me." She says it is also important that society gets to know their stories. They are now a part of our history.

She also ran a two-day workshop in a refugee camp in Thessaloniki in April for 60 children aged from 2 upwards. Historieberättarna is now working at a family centre in Stockholm where 200 refugees are living, and will be expanding into schools and libraries. Some animation workshops have turned into a storytelling project around food, because the children wanted to cook. Anusha is helping create a cookbook with the children. And a theatre group and podcasts are now being organised.

The project has also featured live events to convey refugees' stories to their new host communities.

Sam Lali, who came from Afghanistan ten years ago, provided food, music and cultural expressions from his native country in a evening reception at Botkyrka in Sweden in March (http://historieberattarna.se/filmer/happy-days-botkyrka/). His organisation, Happy Days, was created as a place for refugees to meet Swedish people and to exchange ideas about their different culture and its food and music.

The 'Storytellers without Borders' project runs until December 2018. It aims to reach as many children and young refugees as possible and help them to socialize and express themselves through films. It offers a safe place where refugees can discover their own voices and express their stories, thoughts and feelings in creative ways: http://storytellingwithoutborders.com/