Healing Stories for Challenging Times: Story Heals Around the World

by Laura Simms.

Gaindeh Project is an umbrella organization for a variety of programs that benefit youth in crisis throughout the world. Its ultimate aim is to create model projects which use storytelling in innovative ways for use internationally, as well as in the United States. Our premise is that basic goodness is inherent and that traditional storytelling can uncover and activate this goodness for the benefit of children and community.

Our premise is that basic goodness is inherent and that traditional storytelling can uncover and activate this goodness for the benefit of children and community.

I am the founder and director of the project. It began in 1997 when I brought three ex-child soldiers out of war torn Sierra Leone. One of the boys now lives with me as my son and is in his third year of college. He is a spokesperson for the United Nations and other humanitarian organizations. The Gaindeh Project also supports the other boys to live safely in Accra and helps young people in Romania as well.

In June 2001, I began the first of what will be five experimental programs using intergenerational storytelling to train adolescents to become storytellers and story writers. In Romania, in four cities, the project is called COMING HOME. I have in-country partners in theatres, foundations and government agencies.

This winter, the project is expanding to include Gypsy mothers and children in Bacau. A plan has been designed for a ten-village project in Sierra Leone in collaboration with CADO (Community Animation Development Organization) in Freetown. We have raised more than three fourths of the funds to begin our work in the late spring. At present, a third project is being designed in the south of India with street children.

In response to the tragedy of September 11th in Manhattan, Gaindeh was able to publish and distribute a booklet of 18 stories, original and traditional.

In response to the tragedy of September 11th in Manhattan, Gaindeh was able to publish and distribute a booklet of 18 stories, original and traditional, with the generous help of the Holland & Knight Charitable Foundation, Inc.

More than 5000 books have been given out to New York City school districts. Two thousand books have been sold privately and through Chinaberry Books to support Gaindeh Projects. The book has been translated into Romanian, Arabic and Hebrew.

The monies from the book have sent a boy to school in Ghana. Most recently, we have raised money to buy a voice activated computer for a young man from Sierra Leone who had both arms amputated in the civil war and who is attempting to go to high school in New York.

My staff includes three assistants and two storytellers. In each country we work with therapists, storytellers and administrators. Heather Greer of Save the Children is working on creating an exhibit of photos and videos of the projects to be shown in 2004. If anyone would like to read more about the project or help with a donation, please go to my website: www.laurasimms.com.

Article originally appeared in HSA Newsletter: Issue 9, Winter 2003


 

Editors Note: — We asked Laura to let us know about the word “Gaindeh”. She wrote… “Gaindeh has great meaning to me. It is a Mende word meaning ‘the first rays of sun in the morning’. My adopted son’s birth family, killed in the civil war in Sierra Leone (West Africa), is from the Mende tribe. I chose that word because our mission for youth in crisis internationally is based on the recognition that basic goodness is inherent and can be uncovered and activated through the process of storytelling and storymaking. This awakening of inherent confidence and intelligence and heart is like the first ray of sun in the morning that grows into brilliant daylight regardless of circumstance. My son chose the title of our project.”


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