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I want to make sure that my voice is heard – and not just my voice, but thousands of women out there. So for me, I was crying out loud for those women, and I stood up for them so that we can make sure their voices are heard – my voice is heard. That means that the next generation of young women, their voices will also be heard.”
— Grassroot Soccer storyteller

Traditional patriarchal and cultural norms in South Africa, coupled with the legacy of the systemic, state-sanctioned violence of Apartheid over generations, has fueled a society with one of the world’s highest rates of sexual and gender-based violence against adolescent girls and young women. Grassroot Soccer leverages the power of soccer to educate, inspire, and mobilize South African youth to overcome their greatest health challenges, live healthier, more productive lives, and be agents for change in their communities. The organization works with young adult mentors to incorporate sport in dynamic, interactive lessons that provide a safe space for engaging adolescents, deconstructing harmful gender norms, preventing violence, and encouraging participants to seek sexual and reproductive health services.

In March 2016, Silence Speaks partnered with Grassroot Soccer in Cape Town, to lead a five-day storytelling and participatory media workshop with an amazing group of female mentors. The project was framed as an exploratory study of whether the act of creating and sharing digital stories can foster digital literacy, self-awareness, reflection, and mutual support among young women. In collaboration with Grassroot Soccer staff and communication consultant Jenn Warren, we brought participants together for a group Story Circle; guided them through the process of writing and recording short scripts; and taught them the basics of photography, videography, and visual ethics. Next, we coordinated a location photo and video shoot to support participants in documenting their stories, and guided them through computer tutorials that enabled them to edit their stories as short videos. Study findings confirm that a thoughtfully planned and facilitated digital storytelling workshop can be an effective tool for both individual and community change. Participants reported increases in knowledge about themselves and their technical abilities, improved attitudes in the areas of strength, voice, and leadership, and more open, substantive, and supportive communication with their peers. Most notable was the seed of intention towards social change that surfaced among the storytellers, expressed as the realization that when a woman desires change in her own life, she must therefore also seek to effect change in her surroundings.

The young women’s stories touch on overcoming gender-bias in sport, surviving gender-based violence, and the resilience it takes to thrive in spite of deeply entrenched structural obstacles to staying healthy. The stories are currently being shared at conferences and other events focused on gender, sport, and health, and the storytellers themselves are working with Grassroot Soccer to coordinate and lead community-based story screenings and story sharing sessions, as a way of bringing visibility to young women’s voices and creating safe spaces for their peers to respond and join the call for women’s rights across South Africa.

* Funded by the Ford Foundation, the digital storytelling workshop began at Grassroot Soccer’s Football for Hope Center in Khayelitsha, and was completed at the American Corner in the Cape Town Public Library using the Corner’s state-of-the art computer lab (courtesy of the US Consulate General).

This was first published by StoryCenter. Permission to publish on the SVRI Blog was given by the authors.

Written by Amy Hill (StoryCenter’s Silence Speaks Director) and Jenn Warren (Grassroot Soccer South Africa’s Strategic Communications Manager)

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StoryCenter creates spaces for transforming lives and communities, through the acts of listening to and sharing stories. Its Silence Speaks Initiative surfaces first-person narratives of struggle, courage, and transformation – working to ensure that these stories play an instrumental role in promoting gender equality, health, and human rights around the world. Silence Speaks uses participatory media, popular education and testimonio practices to support the telling and witnessing of stories that all too often remain unspoken and unheard. Since 1993, StoryCenter has partnered with organisations around the world on projects in Storywork, digital storytelling, and other forms of digital media production. StoryCenter’s selection of public workshops supports individuals in creating and sharing stories.

Grassroot Soccer (GRS) is an adolescent health organisation that leverages the power of soccer to educate, inspire and mobilise at-risk youth to overcome their greatest health challenges, live healthier, more productive lives, and be agents for change in their communities. In South Africa, GRS manages community centres in three locations, Alexandra and Soweto in Gauteng Province and Khayelitsha in Western Cape Province, as well as headquarter offices in Johannesburg and Cape Town. GRS works in nine provinces in South Africa, directly and through partnerships, providing capacity building and technical support for local organisations. GRS South Africa is affiliated with Grassroot Soccer, Inc., a global non-profit organisation based in the United States, and employs 90 full-time staff and 300 Coaches who deliver evidence-based programming to youth. Since opening in South Africa in 2006, Grassroot Soccer has trained over 500 Coaches, graduated 270,000 youth, tested 35,000 at-risk youth for HIV, and distributed HIV prevention education materials to millions of South Africans through schools and mass media information campaigns.

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