I am wearing a Panama Hat. Yes, I do look ridiculous, especially as I am also wearing an old tracksuit with UGG boots, wrapped in a fluffy pink blanket and sitting inside on my couch. But I felt inspired to write about my recent trip to Panama and thought it only fitting to don my Genuine Panama Hat, made in Ecuador.
Panama is hot. Sweaty, red face hot. Especially if, like me, you do stupid things like go for a walk along the Canal mid-morning in black exercise gear, without a hat and no water bottle. Just as well that I wasn’t surrounded by a bunch of experienced humanitarians who have that whole practical preparedness thing going on. Oh right, I was.
I was in Panama for a Global Relief Forum. A week with some great humanitarian minds challenging, debating, and at times arguing how to improve our responsiveness to the changing humanitarian needs. And boy can these guys debate. This combination of passionate, intelligent, experienced and principled people is awe inspiring and a tad humbling. The more I heard the more my inner communicator jumped for joy. It is my job to tell their stories and engage others in their work and after just five days of listening to them I thought wow, there are so many stories here it will take me years to collect and share them all.
Armed with what has been described as my ‘annoying and misplaced’ enthusiasm for storytelling I oooh’ed and ahhh’ed and asked two reasonably innocent questions, ‘Have you told this story to anyone? Can we do a piece on this?’
I expect people to get embarrassed, nervous, even excited when I ask to share their story but I was unprepared to have a high number of people turn to me and say “I was told this isn’t a story.”
I couldn’t believe it. I had thought I might encounter some resistance, I mean these are busy people and stopping to tell a story could be a tad annoying. But no, instead I found a bunch of people keen, almost desperate to share their experiences, challenges, and successes but disillusioned by ‘this isn’t a story’.
Imagine that. Imagine being told that your work, in some cases your life, which is spent travelling to some of the worst disaster affected communities isn’t worth talking about. Imagine having been someone who was on the ground in responding to the Cyclone Nargis, Asian Tsunami, the Haiti earthquake, imagine working in protracted conflict zones like Sudan, Pakistan, DRC, Somalia, imagine pouring your heart and soul into new projects to expedite the delivering of lifesaving aid, of working tirelessly with other agencies and governments to protect human rights. Imagine all of that and then being told, ‘this isn’t a story’.
Everyone has a story and every story is worth telling. How you tell it, where you tell it and to who you tell it to, sure that is important. But never let someone tell you your story is not worth telling.
Stories lead to friendships. Stories lead to identifying things we have in common and understanding things that are different. Stories lead to education, knowledge, and wisdom.
Ok, so rant over back to Panama hats and sweaty walks along the Canal.