Reflections on our Zimbabwe “Women’s Video Story Circle” event, Feb 2023

by Pamela Richardson

As part of the ESRC Festival of Social Science 2022, I collaborated with PADA Platform, Kufunda, and Video-co-lab, to create and deliver an online digital storytelling workshop programme, which ran from October to December 2022. The learning programme supported 14 Zimbabwean women, self-identifying as community leaders and community-builders, to develop their digital media and video-making skills. It involved four online workshops and several weeks of interaction via WhatsApp, as participants shared their stories as women in community-building, whilst learning how to create their own smartphone videos. PADA Platform works actively to address the gender-based digital divide in Zimbabwe and our collaborative outreach project took place in the context of high levels of gender-based inequality, with women (most particularly in rural areas) disproportionately lacking access to digital skills training.

Podcast Artwork by Alexandra Plummer: Women’s Video Story-Circles, 2023.

Following the online workshops, in February 2023 we were able to host a first in-person gathering of the Zimbabwe Women’s Video Story Circle hosted by Kufunda Village in Ruwa, Zimbabwe. The celebratory workshop event was co-facilitated by myself, Dr Pamela Richardson (University of Sheffield), with Rudo Chakanyuka (PADA Platform) and Sikhethiwe Mlotsha (Kufunda Village, Women are Medicine). We managed to bring 12 out of 14 participants from the online workshop programme to join us for the event and it was a beautiful day. 

Photo: (l-r) Event facilitators, Rudo Chakanyka (PADA Platform), Sikhethike Mlotsha (Kufunda Village), Pamela Richardson (University of Sheffield), 11/2/23.  Photo by Pamela Richardson.

The event felt celebratory and joyful, with much appreciation expressed by all present for this opportunity to spend a day together, in-person, after so many hours communicating and sharing via WhatsApp. 

We gathered in the morning in the village dare - an open, thatched meeting space. In a circle, we shared how we were feeling and our hopes for the day ahead. We then watched the three videos that had been collaboratively produced by the women as part of the online workshop process. The producers were congratulated on their achievement and it was wonderful to be able to share in celebrating this achievement together. In reviewing the videos, participants were able to spontaneously share feedback, offer comments and also ask questions about the stories that were captured in the videos. The participants were able to ask questions about aspects of the video production process and we were able to collectively point out the parts of the videos that were done well and identify areas for improvement. 

After watching their edited videos, we returned to important issues that were covered in the online workshop and discussed them more deeply; informed consent, copyright, sources of free online content, use of transitions, communication possibilities, shot types and framing/composition. More than this, we listened again and revered the stories that had been shared. The stories of learning and change, of women achieving something of social value through their collaborations, had impact and affected us all. The stories were affirmative of the story-tellers’ power and agency to create meaningful actions in their communities. We all felt inspired, uplifted and energised.

Photo: Zimbabwe Women’s Video Story Circle, in-person gathering 11/2/23.  Photo by Pamela Richardson.

After the video review session, we enjoyed a healthy traditional lunch, prepared on site with fresh organic vegetables, fruits and salads sourced mainly from the local area. After lunch, we gathered again in the dare for an award ceremony. All of the participants that had managed to complete an edited video story were given a Certificate. The StoryCircle members received a printed T-shirt and bag, as well as a printed Handbook on Smartphone Video Production produced by Video–Co-Lab. We also brainstormed ideas for a podcast, to share insights from our experience with the online Women’s Video Story Circle.

Being together in the physical space, watching, laughing, listening, dancing and singing together, brought a sense of solidarity, joy and presence that had not been reachable in the digital, virtual space of the WhatsApp group. For me, it brought a clear sense that although the WhatsApp workshop programme had been hugely demanding - personally and for the co-facilitators and participants - there is a collective will and a hope to engage further and to continue to develop the video-making skills, as well as the relationships and other project ideas, that have emerged though our StoryCircle process. The group members are already planning their next meetings, independently of the workshop process.

Thanks are extended to the hosts at Kufunda Village and to the small grants provided by the ESRC Festival of Social Science and the Department of Geography at the University of Sheffield; it was a wonderful and productive day and we only regretted that three group members- Alexandra, Dadirai and Shirleen-  were not able to join the gathering.  Although planned as a “closing event”, it felt very much like new projects were beginning!

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