One summer in the pre-pandemic world, I was invited to Washington, DC, to read some of my poetry to lend a voice to women’s issues and safety as part of addressing human trafficking awareness. I met a lawyer — another speaker — who was a sex trafficking victim herself. She eventually managed to run away (after several failed attempts) and rebuild her life. Her life’s work now is centered around helping other survivors and giving them hope that they will make it through too.
She mentioned that her kidnappers knew her schedule and that she was going through a phase of teenage rebellion. She wasn’t poor and didn’t come from a broken family. She was forcibly picked up in the middle of the day from one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in New York City. The bad people had figured out her vulnerabilities. As she shared her story, and that of other trafficking victims, I recognized how most of us sum up people and their experiences in our minds and write a single story. We stick to a narrative that works for us or are familiar with. Isn’t that the reason for more chaos than calm? How can that help with anyone’s healing?
In her TED Talk, novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie said, “Stories can break the dignity of a people. But stories can also repair that broken dignity.”
Stories are powerful. When I am trying to navigate an issue, I write stories. I believe our stories can become a page in someone else’s survival guide. Stories help us share our wounds which many might find healing. Stories can connect humanity on a deeper level. When I coach my clients, I do so via stories. All my speaking engagements or workshop teaching involves storytelling. Once I put words together, they become sentences and then they turn into paragraphs and eventually transform into full-fledged stories. When we write and share our stories, we come closer as a community. We raise awareness, we build bonds, and we commence our healing process. We are reminded that other people feel it too — our aches, pains, and optimism.
In search of profound storytellers who bring women’s stories to the world and help in cathartic, powerful healing, I came across Mamta Singh, a writer, director, and independent documentary filmmaker based out of New Delhi, India. Singh is currently directing “The Dream Village” for Singapore International Foundation’s digital storytelling platform, Our Better World. The documentary showcases the work of Kat-Katha, an NGO that engages with women forced into sex work. It touches upon the concept of safe space and home. The story takes us on this journey of transformation in the lives of the women working on GB Road, the largest red light area in India’s capital.
The powerful story that’s been the cornerstone of these women’s healing: From working in a brothel to not having any control over their lives to shifting to a home of their own — a space that is open and green — to believing that a life of dignity and meaning outside GB Road was indeed possible.
“The one thing that each of the women asked the architect who was designing their home (the space which the NGO is moving them into) was to have a window in their room,” Singh said. “These women never saw the sunlight and their spaces at the brothel were dark and dingy. They had one window with a grill, but that was to call customers from the roads below. Here they wished for windows so that when they woke up, they could see the world outside, let the sunlight in. The women look forward to living a life of freedom and choice, for themselves and their children.”
In talking to this poised and compassionate documentary filmmaker, I was reminded (again) that every woman wishes to be heard and seen. She desires to make a difference in her home, communities, and society. She wants her individual story to be told. “They have thoughts that are exciting, opinions that matter, and experiences that are unique to them and need to be shared,” Singh tells us. We cannot pigeonhole people or their stories.
Stories help us grow as individuals. Stories help us navigate the world. Stories make us feel less lonely knowing one is not alone in our experiences. Stories create a sense of belonging. Stories make us visible and come alive. Stories help us process our joy, sorrows, anger, grief, hardships, hope and much more. Part of our healing begins when we can share our stories with those who care. When our vulnerabilities are treated with respect and love, we can start to let go. The process of forgiveness is the foundation to healing. When we start to heal, we heal our communities and families.
“Our collective stories and experience can be the greatest textbooks of life. But with every shameful story stuffed away, we bypass the chance to expand and connect — a missed opportunity slipped through our fingers.” ~ Kristen Noel
For more of The Balanced Life on SEEMA.com, check out 5 Reasons Friend Circles Shrink With Age…