There’s always that one.
That one girl, who is extremely quiet, refuses to make eye contact but she won’t leave the room.
Some of the girls are loud and brash; seemingly disrespectful but I know better. I remain firm and make my voice the loudest in the room.
A few of the girls are not the least bit interested in what I have to share. It’s obvious by the roll of their eyes, their slumped posture, and their deep stares into nothingness. But that shy girl, that quiet and reserved girl, curled up in a fetal position on the sofa is listening to every word I say. She’s not ignoring me. I’m unaware that in that very moment, my words have touched her and we’ve connected.
I wouldn’t know this until weeks later.
I have the absolute honour and privilege of teaching teenage girls who have been rescued from sex trafficking and prostitution the art of speaking and storytelling. I love the art form and have been speaking to audiences since I was five-years-old.
I am one with the universe when I’m on stage, with a microphone in one hand (or wearing a headset) and a clicker in the other. So the stats that say people wish for death before they speak in public are completely foreign to me. I empathise with those who don’t relish in the challenge of connecting with an audience. I truly do.
The ability to tell a good story is a worthy skill-set. It doesn’t matter if you write your story, use sign language to communicate it, sing it, type it out in Braille, or address crowds of people from a stage – good storytellers command attention.
It’s a skill that benefits everyday life. If you’re trying to sell a client your company’s solution to their problem, or persuade a college admissions officer or human resource manager to choose you over all of the other candidates, being able to tell a compelling story gives you an incredible edge.
That’s what I tell my girls.
I tell them that despite everything they’ve been through, regardless of what was taken away from them; they still have their voice. They still have their stories and no one can take that away from them. I do my best to convey that there is nothing more empowering than confidently taking a stage and sharing their story.
So we practice proper form and we study other storytellers, even poets. The girls start writing their stories and together with the resident assistants (RAs), we work on the flow of their stories and finalise their pieces for the annual Story Slam.
And there’s always that one girl—that one girl who connected but kept the connection a secret.
That one girl I didn’t know was listening.
She approaches me a few weeks before the Story Slam.
She’s written out her story and she wants me to read it.
Her story is raw and tragic and ends with a glimmer of hope and I’m always brought to tears in these instances. She acts like all the other quiet, shy girls before her and refuses to present it. She’s terrified to speak in public. She assures me that she’ll pass out if she has to stand up and deliver those words to a group of her peers, RAs and counsellors.
I tell her that there’s no pressure to present and I understand her fear. I tell her how proud I am of her for writing it and sharing it with me.
The night of the Story Slam, that girl always finds me just before the event and tells me she’s had a change of heart. That she wants to share her story. She wants to share her truth.
And without fail, that girl’s story touches everyone in the room.
I’m in awe that she doesn’t race through it and we hear every word; even through the voice cracks and sniffles and refusal to look up from her tattered paper.
When that girl finishes presenting, she looks up and in her eyes, is great pride and a sense of accomplishment. It’s a victory no one can take away from her. She reclaimed her voice and her right to be heard.
The counsellors tell me that those girls are never the same after that night.
So a few times a year, I present everything I know about the power of storytelling to broken young women. I do this with the hope that they’ll find healing, reclaim their value and take back their power through the telling of their own stories.
I make the hour-long trip to the safe house for that girl.