“Our mind is very good at creating meaning and stories out of our experiences or observations, in most cases these stories can be negative which can impact on our mental health. The key aspect is shifting our internal narrative to an empowering one that cultivates growth and healing.”
This month Welcome Merchant is teaming up with Mahawa Creative to run a free Inner Essence Creative Storytelling Workshop for migrant and refugee women. We recognise the importance of encouraging and sharing these stories, with the benefits not only in the amplification of marginalised voices, but also in the connection to self for the storyteller.
The Inner Essence Creative Storytelling Workshop will be held on July 16th at the Little B.I.G House in Summer Hill, NSW. The workshop will be run by Hawanatu Bangura of Mahawa Creative, a social enterprise founded in 2019 by Hawanatu in order to facilitate creative expression and self-care through storytelling. With a background in filmmaking, Hawanatu was moved to share her love of storytelling and creating safe spaces to build community.
We asked Hawanatu to give us some insight into her own story, and explain the benefits of connecting to our words.
What inspired Mahawa Creative to facilitate telling stories?
I was inspired to run storytelling workshops after my experience of developing my short documentary I am Black and Beautiful. At the time I felt an urge to make this documentary as an affirmation for black women to embrace who they are. I ran a workshop to gather the stories of the women participating in the documentary. It was a memorable experience and I felt honoured hearing the deeply personal anecdote by the participants, which had never been shared before. I had positive feedback from the women feeling a sense of connection to others who have gone through similar challenges and a sense of healing. The film was held with great reception both here in Australia and overseas. These screenings created a dialogue that inspired me to delve deep into offering workshops that provide a safe environment for people to address self-worth and mental health issues. This is done through creativity, storytelling and self-care. This started Inner Essence workshops and I created a social enterprise called Mahawa Creative.
Why is storytelling so important?
Authentic storytelling is powerful because it paves the way for us to connect to ourselves and others. Through telling empowering stories about ourselves we gain a stronger sense of self-identity. Our mind is very good at creating meaning and stories out of our experiences or observations, in most cases these stories can be negative which can impact on our mental health. The key aspect is shifting our internal narrative to an empowering one that cultivates growth and healing.
How has your African heritage influenced your business?
My passion for storytelling stemmed from my upbringing in Sierra Leone, West Africa.
During school holidays we would visit my dad’s village. At night we used to gather around the fireplace outside with the moon shining brightly. Someone would tell a folklore story to the soundtrack of crickets and frogs singing in the background. It was such an enriching experience that established my passion for storytelling.
In the Inner Essence workshops I weave elements of my culture, for example West African dance and head wrap, to enhance wellbeing and creative self-expression.
What are the benefits of being able to tell your story? Especially for women?
As women it is innate in us to be drawn towards women’s cycle and communities. It is important to have safe spaces to enable this way of being to flourish. There is often a sense of aloneness one experiences when faced with challenges, and telling stories in a safe space helps to alleviate this. Listening to and sharing stories, especially of adversities, can be comforting. Recognising the common thread and relatability of our experiences is cathartic.
Do you have any tips for those who want to tell their story but don’t know how?
When it comes to telling our stories it starts with the mindset. First thing is embracing that you have a story worth telling. Silencing the self-limiting belief and preventing the self-sabotage of wanting to tell your story in a grandiose way. Start small and simple, this might be writing in a diary about your experience or sharing your experience with a trusted someone. Let the stories happen organically. The story might just be something you share in your dairy or with a friend. You get to practice this muscle. As you get more comfortable with exploring your stories, you can find creative and therapeutic ways of expressing it. This is what I guide people to do in my Creative Storytelling workshops
How important is representation to you?
In the media, we hope to relate, see, and recognise ourselves and parts of our lives in what we view. We want to feel represented. It is like having a mirror reflecting our lives back to us. We want our experiences to be felt, seen, heard, and valued. This enhances our sense of belonging and inclusion in the fabric of society.
The Inner Essence Creative Storytelling Workshop in collaboration with Mahawa Creative will be held on July 16th at the Little B.I.G House in Summer Hill, NSW. It is a free event for migrant and refugee women.
For more information reach out to Welcome Merchant here, or find Mahawa Creative here.
If you have your own migrant story to tell, the Deborah Cass Prize for Writing is now open for competition submissions. The winner receives a cash prize of $3,000 plus a three-month mentorship with an established writer, and two runners-up receive $1000 each. Submissions close on the 10th of August 2022. Find the full terms and conditions here.