When I was little, my dad was always the one who told us stories – stories of the war, stories of when he was little and stories of the “old country,” with all the ghostly details included. It got to be the highlight of our day when he would launch into a story with the familiar beginning,” Once upon a time there was a little boy who asked his father to tell him a story, and this was the story he told: Once upon a time there was a little boy…” Well, you get the idea.
So storytelling has always been the best way to teach in my mind. I don’t learn well by rote and I don’t learn well just by reading something; but tell me a story and you have me hooked; I can’t wait to hear more. I felt truly validated today as I sat and listened to the stories and poems that were presented to us at the UNESCO event, “An Afternoon with Robert Redford: Storytelling for Global Action.” We were privileged to hear Mr. Redford speak about the importance of storytelling as a means to deliver an important message. He reminded us of two very important ideas when discussing storytelling and its content. “If you really want to be effective, make it stick,” he said. “Draw the audience in with a story… so that it becomes their own.”
My students hear stories all the time, and there will be so many more from my experience here in Paris. Robert Redford also reminded us that there are no easy answers or solutions to climate change; there is only what each of us is willing to do.” This is a question I will ask my students: “How much are you willing to do to ensure a safe and fruitful planet for yourselves and your children’s future?”
Stories have incredible power to move us all. As I listened to Mina Setra, Deputy Secretary General of AMAN (Indigenous Peoples’ Alliance of the Archipelago), from Indonesia, I cried. I cried in my heart for her people, I cried in my heart for the human race, and I cried in my heart and soul for the Earth. She was particularly moved and moving as she talked about the fact that at COP21, the conference to end all conferences, there was a very good possibility that the Indigenous Peoples rights listed in the main text of the COP21 agreement would be moved to the introduction section. She was brought to tears as she explained what this meant: that they really had no rights in the agreement anymore (that is, if it goes through).
Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner, a poet and activist from the Marshall Islands was most eloquent as she read a poem describing the Earth’s temperature in terms of a child that was running a fever. No need to worry, as it isn’t a fever yet, was what the young mother in the poem heard. We are living in a world with a fever, one that is out of control and deadly to life. We need to heal and mend and drive the fever out.
As I listened to Mundiya Kepenga, a Papuan traditional Leader from Papua New-Guinea, the last panelist, I was struck by the pride he exhibited in his native attire, and the passion with which he spoke about his homeland. He shared stories with us of his ancestors, who were most wise, and how they knew of the dangers coming. He said his people didn’t listen and neither do the people outside of his country. His short video was a masterpiece, and equated ” man” to the brothers of trees. They (the trees) take care of us as we take care of them because we are all family on Earth. He spoke with pride of the past and of the success of his country. He saddened as he spoke of the days gone past, when the clouds filled the skies, and contrasted that with the current conditions: “We no longer have clouds,” he said. “It no longer rains; our drinking water has disappeared and we cannot feed ourselves.”
Two last quotes resonate very strongly with me as I end my thoughts of the day: Mundiya Kepenga spoke of a prophet in “our” (Christian) bible as he said,” I believe one of your ancestors said that there would be climate change; I believe his name was Noah!”. The last quote that I want to share is from Pope Francis: “Climate change is not a political issue, it is a moral issue.”