Telling a different story — Somali Storytellers are bringing messages of hope during the Covid-19 pandemic
“When I came home to Somalia from Canada six years ago, I was expecting to find a hopeless, war-torn country,” says Zahra. “That’s all you see in the media. But reality’s much more complicated. There are so many stories of hope — communities coming together to help each other get by. I wanted to tell people about this different side of my country.”
So Zahra applied for a 6-week immersive training course in digital storytelling set up by UNDP.
Zahra was one of 400 people to apply for the course. With so many candidates and so few places, she faced some tough competition, but her remarkable achievements as a young writer and human rights activist made her stand out from the crowd.
Even before she had finished high school in Canada she had written and published a book of short stories, and since graduating she has gone on to win awards for her poetry, including third place in a Somali-language international poetry competition.
The successful applicants first attended a 1-week camp where they explored ways of editing and sharing video using only smartphones and simple software.
The twenty successful participants then went on to complete a 5-week online programme, exploring the craft of storytelling in greater depth and mastering editing and production to a level where they can pass these skills on to future storytellers.
“The UNDP training helped a lot. I didn’t have any skills in recording and filming before, but now people can not only read my words but hear and see them. That takes storytelling to a whole new level”, says Zahra.
On completing the course, the storytellers immediately got to work setting up a YouTube channel and Instagram and Twitter accounts to showcase their work as widely as possible.
Then came the Covid-19 pandemic and everything changed.
The storytellers were quick to find ways to help their communities cope, producing videos to inform the public about how to protect themselves and others from infection.
Zahra got involved in a locally organized workshop and helped train another 30 young people in creative storytelling.
“COVID is a difficult time for everyone,” she says. “A lot people are isolated and so I started passing on my new skills, encouraging young people to express themselves and share messages about the need for everyone to stay safe.”
Just recently, the Somali storytellers teamed up to produce a video about how Somali youth are shaping the future of their country.
“The video became popular on Instagram and we got a lot of good feedback saying how our work offered hope and comfort. We got a lot of interest from Somalis in other countries too. They were really pleased to see good news from our country,” says Zahra.
The storytellers are now in the process of forming their own company.
“I see a great future for us,” says Zahra. “Lots of young people are already asking how they can become storytellers themselves.”
UNDP’s work to train and mentor a new generation of filmmakers and other artists in Somalia is carried out by the UNDP Accelerator Lab in partnership with experts from Australia’s Queensland University and Digital Storytellers. Find out more.