This journey began for me in Slovenia when I first confronted hate speech and learned what was behind the words and meanings people use to share hate. It wasn’t an easy experience from understanding hateful narratives (and learning to accept that they exist in every society) to learning how to deconstruct them, and then finally presenting them during our local action. I often felt that there was more. More I could say, more to the complexities of the problem, and most of all more that we could do. I often felt disappointed. Disappointed that these narratives existed. That hate existed. But I believed in the cause, and I persisted.
Together with the team, we used digital storytelling as a methodology for changing the narrative in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH). The tool told interconnected stories of migrants and refugees that go through precarious journeys, experiencing what most of us cannot even imagine. Translated into local language, we imagined we were travelling through the perilous Mediterranean Sea, into Turkey and through the Balkan region. On the way, we faced robbery, theft and even police violence. Upon arriving in Bosnia and Herzegovina, a country we thought we could be more welcoming due to similar cultures, we were once again brought back to the harsh reality that - no, we were not welcomed.
While powerful and proven to be working with young people in Italy, the tool was not particularly useful in BiH, a post-conflict country. The participants had difficulty with the interaction, placing their own personal life-stories in center stage. The sharing of these stories was the powerful part, though. What I came to learn through this experience is that as a youth worker, not every event will go as planned. Not every plan will come to realization, and not every methodology works for every group. Each group, each local context, has his or her own unique needs and it’s vital to understand those and tailor to the needs of the participants in order to share the experience and learn together.
In this journey - my journey - I also learnt that narratives are what you make of it. Like the glass half empty, the glass can also be half full. Like the hateful narratives that exist, there are also the positive ones, the ones that are progressing, and changing, no matter how small that voice can sometimes be. The narratives that we choose to see and work on are the ones that make the difference. So do not despair, especially when things get tough. Working on ‘deconstructing’ hate is not an easy task, and it is also not without emotions. These emotions are what get people to act in the first place and are an important part of the process of reconstruction, trust, love, kindness and eventually peace. Don’t suppress them, let people express them and come together.
And so, I now choose to see the final outcome of this journey, as a small drop in the ocean. A small change in the current narrative, which I hope will have the desired outcome one day, even if not today. But that is already a lot. I hope that this tool, and the stories of all the people who made the tool, have the possibility to be heard. I wish that by hearing the stories of people, like the stories of people from BiH displaced around the world can one day show that it doesn’t matter who is being displaced, or why, or when it happened, be it Syria in the past 5 years, or Bosnia and Herzegovina over 20 years ago. But rather, that when another human being is in need, regardless of their reasons or choices in life, we can and should lend a helping hand instead of generating more hate and untrustworthiness.