By Rhea Bhandari
"The stories we tell literally make the world. If you want to change the world, you need to change your story. This truth applies both to individuals and institutions."
With everything that’s going on in the world right now, storytelling might be one of the only few tools that work effectively to cut through the noise and reach the audience. The French filmmaker Jean Luc Godard says, “Sometimes reality is too complex. Stories give it form." Storytelling is not just important because people don’t have time to consume information in other ways, it is essential because, if done right, it brings the emotion across. We use stories to make sense of our world and share that understanding with others and raise awareness around it.
This fall, I had the pleasure of working on a project that does exactly that. The Dignity Project is a New York based collaboration between The Kota Alliance, Saba Ismail of Aware Girls and Florence Montmare,. The program was supported by Eileen Fisher Community Partnerships and by the Lower East Side Girls Club. The project empowers young women to become agents of change by creating their own expression through digital storytelling. The ultimate goal of the project is to end violence against women, and to protect women’s rights.
For four weekends, five strong and talented girls ages 15-18 came together to share their individual stories and the causes they stood for. The young South Asian women - Amira, Mahiyat, Ishrat, Sadia, and Elizabeth - came into the project with such different perspectives of what it is like to be a South Asian woman in today’s world. Each of them had distinctive lenses that they used to talk about women, their lives and struggles. They contrasted from focusing on global warming to code-switching, digging deep into the day to day life of a Brown woman, to teenage pregnancy and even religious stereotypes.
Being a Brown woman myself, I very well recognized some of the struggles they pointed out. I was amazed during the process about the level of articulation and creativity that they had - and it showed clearly in the way each film was crafted. The narration, sound and the choice of film shots made the artwork real and personal, just like the young women who created them.
Knowingly or unknowingly, they are trying to push against the idea of being colorblind. The mentality of colorblindness can only result in erasing the individualism of people and can be detrimental to the preservation of their rich culture. The Dignity Project celebrates the uniqueness of their culture, and empowers young women to be their authentic selves.
Their stories are important to tell, not only for those who get to relive them, but for those who can listen and learn from them. Stories allow everyone to express all of their identities and be proud of themselves, just as they are.
What the project taught me, is that this generation has the power to affect change. I can’t wait for all that they have to offer to the world!
The writer is a Kota Volunteer from India, who is doing her master’s program in the School of Visual Arts in New York City.
The Kota Alliance is screening the short films made during the project at Lower East Side Girls Club on 12/15/2018 2pm - 4pm.. During the event, besides seeing the products of their work, the participants of the program will receive a certificate of graduating from the program. RSVP to the screenings here.