Thursday, September 6, 2007

Center for Victims of Torture Story Project

I would like to share with you a little about the CVT Story Project. The purpose of the Story Project is to gather the stories of individuals and communities who have been affected by torture. The stories will be used to help create an understanding of the complexity of the culture, communities, and the hopes of people who have experienced political torture. The methodology of the project was developed at the Minneapolis CVT Center over two-years.

The process of gathering stories for the CVT Story Project is rooted in the values of oral culture and storytelling. In a conversation with Liberian storyteller Vera Oye Yaa-Anna she stressed that for Liberians storytelling is “an oral activity of the imagination.” As our discussion continued we agreed that storytelling happens within one’s imagination and when the story is shared orally with another the listener is then able to imaginatively live within the story. In oral cultures storytelling is a natural way of communication, an interaction between people, and is not about performance. Therefore the project’s process is rooted in the realm of the imagination, memory, conversation, and the connection between people. The stories are not recorded and only a minimum of note taking is done. The person being interviewed determines the content of the story and the intent is to preserve the story that the person desires to tell. Most importantly the story always belongs to the teller and not the person who at the end of the process writes the story. The writer is only the conduit of the story.

The transition to writing the story is the most difficult part of the project. Once a story is written the story is outside of the person and no longer has the same internalized imaginative quality. There is a power that spoken word has that written word cannot capture. Therefore only when the story is rooted in the imagination of the listener is the story written. Once the story is written the teller reviews the written story to see if the story remains true to teller’s experience. Only then can the story be shared in the written form. At the end of the process the teller receives a copy of their story and are asked how the story can be used.

There are limitations to the method. The method is time consuming but the process is not just about producing stories. The process is about creating understanding between people and giving witness to the teller’s story. The hope is that the stories can help people understand the consequences of political torture and create the change necessary to end all forms of torture.

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