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  • Writer's pictureKay Sandberg

Powerful Personal Storytelling and Skill Building for Maya Midwifery Int'l ED in Kenya!

I'm super excited to share this "must-read" guest blog by Asia Fresse Blackwell, ED of Maya Midwifery International/ACAM, Guatemala. She won a coveted place in a powerful storytelling workshop in Nairobi hosted by the Moth Radio. Thank you, Asia!

Learn about MMI's inspiring birth work in rural Guatemala:

As I typed the beginning of my story into the online application portal for The Moth Storytelling Workshop focused on midwifery and midwifery advocacy, I couldn’t help but dream about receiving the all expense paid opportunity to travel to Nairobi, Kenya and learn how to use my words to better advocate for the incredible Indigenous midwives I work with in Guatemala. As the opportunity was only offered in English, my hope was to participate on behalf of our organization, Maya Midwifery International, and our sister organization, Association of Midwives of the Mam Area, and return to Guatemala to replicate the workshop in Spanish with translation into Mam.

Information about the opportunity was shared in a Compassionate Birth Network email sent out by Kay and Global Force for Healing in July 2022. I figured it couldn’t hurt to apply, though being selected seemed like a long shot. Needless to say, I was incredibly surprised when the email congratulating me on being selected to attend the Moth Storytelling Workshop arrived in my inbox. I was even more surprised to learn that I was one of only 24 individuals invited to participate.

After confirming participation for the first workshop offered on September 12-14, working through the logistics of the trip, mentally preparing to leave my 17 month old for the first time, and traveling for nearly 30 hours, I finally arrived and checked in at the Nairobi Serena Hotel around 2am on September 11th. Despite being exhausted and jetlagged, my excitement made it easy to be up bright and early the following morning to start the three days of training.

The day began on the 12th with a silly icebreaker activity and individual presentations, leaving me feeling incredibly humbled to share the space with 10 other midwives, midwife educators, and nonprofit executive directors representing Kenya, Ghana, Ethiopia, Uganda, and Pakistan, in addition to the Moth Workshop Facilitating Team.

Moth Storytelling workshop staff (on left), Asia (center) & other attendees (names below)*

After learning the ins and outs of storytelling, including the elements of a strong story (change, central conflict, personal stakes, and a narrative arc), how to find our stories, how to paint a scene, how to create an outline, and how to edit, review, and refine. We were split into smaller groups of 3-4 individuals to work on and develop our individual stories with the assistance of two facilitators. I was lucky enough to be grouped with Larry Rosen, The Moth’s Community Program Manager. Through his guidance over two days, I was able to craft a new story, a story that only I could tell but that everyone who heard it could identify with at least a small piece of it. The story was descriptive and full of emotion. I wrote and rewrote and spoke and re-spoke with the support of my group. Each time I recited the story, the story became more powerful, more concise, and my confidence behind the words grew.

On the third and final day, we came back as a full group. With a microphone in front of an audience, we spontaneously stood up to tell our stories. Two colleagues had gone, but the sound of my nervous heart beating had drowned out their voices; I knew I needed to stand up next in order to be a better listener for my peers. I moved to the microphone at the front of the room, received the go-ahead from the camera man, and let the words escape my mouth.

I painted the picture of my life growing up with my mom, a midwife, as my biggest inspiration. I walked them through how midwifery had brought us closer together, both as a girl and as an adult. I showed them how excited I was to have my mom as my homebirth midwife, the culmination of our shared experience and passion. And with not a dry eye in the room, I let them experience how it felt when my mom, who is diagnosed with Dissociative Identity Disorder, perceived my birth as a trauma and completely erased the whole event from her memory only hours later. I finished my story to a roar of applause, and as I returned to my seat, I was embraced by those who had grown to be good friends. I was now able to place more attention on the amazing art being performed in front of me, and I was left in awe of the powerful prose spoken. Our storytelling came to an end, and we transitioned to our final session of the workshop, how to utilize our stories for advocacy, a part I was especially looking forward to. We learned how to further condense our stories in order to utilize them during speeches, at conferences, within grant applications, etc. The session prepared us for storytelling implementation and shared with us the successes experienced by others through storytelling for advocacy. We ended the day with a ceremony. Each participant received a certificate of completion, and after many hugs and exchanges of whatsapp information, I was quickly on my way back to the airport to travel another 30 hours back to Guatemala.

I am so grateful for the opportunity, for the new knowledge, and for the friendships formed. I believe this workshop provided such an important skill, and I am so excited to share it with the ACAM midwives, as each and everyone of them has a unique and moving story that has been systemically silenced for centuries, from the Spanish conquest to the 36-year Guatemalan civil war and Maya genocide (which ended in 1996). As we continue to advocate for the recognition of their identity in Guatemala, I strongly believed that The Moth Storytelling Workshop and the skills I gained have strengthen my own ability to use storytelling for advocacy, but will, more importantly, also allow me to empower the midwives, themselves, to speak up and out and to build confidence in the power of their own voices.

I am thankful for the Compassionate Birth Network, Global Force for Healing, and Kay for always sharing resources and bringing these opportunities to our attention.

I continue to be inspired by Asia's courageous spirit and "Let's go for it!" way of being! Kay

Excerpted from Asia's Application to The Moth Storytelling Workshop (Kenya 2022)

In 5th grade science at a small elementary school in rural, podunk Indiana, when all the other kids gave presentations on the planets or volcanos, I stood up and proudly walked my classmates through the development of a fetus from conception to birth. My mom was a midwife, a word most of my peers didn't even have in their vocabulary. From a young age, I knew very well that the gestational period consisted of 40 weeks. But as I approached my 38th week of pregnancy with my first child, I began to endlessly pray to the universe that this baby would just come already and free me from my suffering.

At 38 weeks and 2 days, I had had enough. The constant dwelling of hip pain that reverberated through my whole body was now too much to bear. The stretch marks that sprawled out like unwelcome weeds on my belly proved that I was about to burst at the seams. I could not take it anymore.

As I popped another strawberry flavored Alka Seltzer to calm the partially digested pizza dinner burning its way back into my mouth, I waddled into our guest room where my mother, who was visiting from the United States to attend the birth of her grandson as our midwife, laid reading a crime thriller, her favorite genre.

"Alright, mom," I said with only a grain of fear quivering in my voice, "How bad does it hurt to strip membranes?" (end of excerpt)

Asia with Larry (facilitator) & Fentahun (participant)

* Names of Moth Storytelling Workshop facilitator: Larry Rosen; Other attendees from left to right in first photo above: Napeyok Victorina (Uganda), Fentahun F. Sendeku (Ethiopia), and Sandhya Krishnan (Pakistan).



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