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Celebrating a Decade of Storytelling

Afiya Williams, Program Manager for Global Nomads Group

Since the very beginning of our program, Global Nomads Group has been helping to build connections between students and tell powerful stories. Hear what they have learned from Afiya Williams, GNG’s program manager.

Journey with me three hours outside of Lilongwe, Malawi to the rural Kabuzi Village. The sun is just starting to rise and the fog is hanging so low you can only see a few feet in front of you. Fields of land separate small, scattered huts. Six-feet-tall bundles of charcoal and baskets of produce rest on the sides of windowless huts, as the people who sell goods start their hours-long trek to the marketplace. The roads are a winding sequence of bumpy, small hills, and, as it is the dry season, the trees are brittle and the ground is dry and cracked. There is peace in this morning stillness.

Many of the families in this village know the physical ache of hunger. Madalo, a young girl in the village where we will be filming a video for the Students Rebuild Hunger Challenge, comes from a family that struggles to grow and eat food. Our time with Madalo and her family was spirited. She is well-spoken and poised as our cameras capture her at home and at school. She is ambitious and courageous. She shines with energy and poise in every shot we take.

cooking and filming

On our final day with Madalo, we are told that her family wants to prepare a meal for our production team to express their gratitude for telling her story. Acutely aware of their circumstance, I insist that this generous gesture was unnecessary and that we would get lunch in town. But as our crew arrived to drop Madalo off and say our final goodbyes, her mother and father were cooking a meal over an outdoor fire. We could not refuse their offer, given that they had spent the day cooking for us, but it felt odd to eat what we knew to be their very limited food.

We washed our hands in water brought up from the well and sat down on a tarp near the pot of nsima, a traditional Malawian dish, and the pot of greens they had prepared for us. We learned how to eat with our hands and roll the sticky nsima between our fingers before dipping into the greens. Together we shared a rare and special moment in this meal with our new friends. We ate a small amount of the food and left the rest for her family to enjoy.

In ten years of partnership between Global Nomads Group (GNG) and Students Rebuild, we have experienced similar hospitality; in every community we visit families open up their homes and hearts to us. Such openness demonstrates that no matter the Challenge theme, Students Rebuild stories reveal the same core understandings:

  • Young people are powerful. Their voices are strong, their opinions are valid, and their actions are intentional. They demand more of this world and they are not afraid to go after what they want. Their families see their strength and support their participation in our projects.
  • We’re all connected. To make global change is to make local change. No matter how isolated or dense, rich or poor a community is, the issues and actions in one place affect the issues and actions in other places.
  • Everyday people matter...a lot. The most positive impacts and activism come from everyday people who stand up and take action for what’s right. Taking action can take many forms. Together, we have the power to make a world that is safe and healthy for all!

At GNG, we believe in the power of storytelling and collective action. We believe that sharing stories builds on our individual and collective ability to see the full humanity of all people, no matter their circumstances. Through stories we are transported through time and space. We are invited to expand what we already know into deeper meaning and connection. Ten years of storytelling has taken us all over the world -- from Haiti to Japan to Nigeria to Syria to Bangladesh to the United States. We have captured the experiences of young people affected by serious global issues like religious conflict, genocide, water pollution, and hunger.

yams in Malawi

Though the stories come from many different places and the challenges facing communities differ, the Students Rebuild challenges allow people everywhere to connect through shared knowledge, empathy, and the desire to make a positive difference. Each year, we collectively feed each other with ideas, solutions, support, and action and through this nourishment, we bring about the change we seek in the world.

Whether you’ve taken one challenge or all ten, you and your students are strengthening our human connections and, through such connections are actively reducing the biases and injustices of the world. You have helped provide safety, support, and sustenance to the young people you work with and, by extension, the local and global communities they represent. As GNG and Students Rebuild enter a new decade of partnership, we hope you will continue this work of breaking bread and breaking barriers with us.

Afiya Headshot, Global Nomads Group