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Stoic at Eight

Our founder, Phil Borges, along with two Volunteer Production AssistantsRachel Gray and Catherine Cussaguet, are currently in Nepal working with Resurge International.  The organization does incredible work to provide free reconstructive surgeries for the poor and builds year-round medical access in underserved areas.   We will post their stories throughout the coming week.  

8 year old Kalus, who was treated by Resurge International.

Story by Rachel Gray

Patients from rural villages in Nepal often travel long distances (sometimes several days) to reach the nearest hospital.  You can only imagine how many injuries go untreated.  In fact, Dr. Shankar said that average time a burn victim waits to be treated is 10 years.  When a burn victim is not treated right away, the severity of the issue expands.

Kalus and his mother walked into the doctor’s office this past week at the Chitwan hospital.  Kalus is an eight-year-old boy who suffered a burn injury when he was an infant.  His hand caught fire on the cook stove, debilitating three of the fingers on his left hand. His fingers contracted and stuck together in a bent position.  Kalus’ mother heard that surgery is not good for children (myth!), which is why they waited for over five years to see a doctor.

Kalus came back to the hospital the following day for the operation.  I found him waiting outside of the doctor’s office that morning.  Peering into the room his face was calm and inquisitive.  He didn’t seem at all nervous for his pending surgery.

We suited up and followed Kalus into the Operating Room. While he was lying on the hospital bed, nurses were preparing the anesthesia.  With all of the movement, lights and unfamiliarity, Kalus remained totally stoic.  He didn’t so much as make an uncomfortable face.  I had never seen anything like it.

A Doctor holds Kalus’ injured hand during surgery

The surgery was successful, and Dr. Shankar was able to straighten out Kalus’ fingers. Several days later we decided to visit Kalus at his village home (I’m now starting to understand the long distances people travel just in order to be seen by a doctor).  Kalus, his mother and sister anticipated our arrival with big smiles.  We met them where the highway meets the dirt road that would lead to their village.  The family jumped in the van and off we traveled down the bumpy (understatement) dirt road.  We casually picked up Kalus’ grandparents on, and Phil hopped on the back of a villager’s motorcycle to shoot some footage.

Rice fields, banana trees, and kids playing soccer lead us to Kalus’ home.  His family gathered outside, as Dr. Shankar checked on Kalus’ wound.  We conducted a short interview, and Kalus showed us how well he can write English. His family pays a monthly tuition for Kalus to attend a private school.  The girls attend a government school, where the quality of education is less adequate.  When asked about the chores that Kalus does around the house, the response was ‘none’.  It’s still very traditional here, Dr. Shankar explained.  The boys study and the girls do all the chores.  Families invest more resources in their sons.  This is because when women are of marrying age, the bride’s family has to pay a dowry (which is expensive and often a burden).  The bride will then leave home and move in with her husband’s family.  The sons on the other hand remain at home and will inherit the property.

After the interview, Kalus’ mom brought out hard boiled eggs and black tea for us to snack on. Fresh sugar cane had just been cut and a few of us were munching on it.

Kalus in his home.

We all agreed afterwards that we wished we could have stayed at Kalus’ village for days.  The family was so kind and the village was peaceful, unlike the roads we were about to approach to drive back in the city.  There’s a real simplicity in village life.  Driving back, a man was pulling his water buffalo to churn the soil in preparation for the next seed cycle. What a great journey!

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Our founder, Phil Borges, along with two Volunteer Production AssistantsRachel Gray and Catherine Cussaguet, are currently in Nepal working with Resurge International.  The organization does incredible work to provide free reconstructive surgeries for the poor and builds year-round medical access in underserved areas.   We will post their stories throughout the coming week.  

Man Kumari

Written by Rachel Gray

The film crew and the medical team collectively set off for a journey though the quiet mountains of Nepal, away from the busyness of Kathmandu.  Dr. Shankar (the lead reconstructive surgeon in Nepal) travels to remote areas in Nepal to see patients and perform surgeries about once a month.   On this trip we visited four patients in their homes (a rare occurrence for Dr. Shankar who is busy performing surgeries building a huge arena for social change).

We traveled down a bumpy road to visit elder patient Man Kumari, a burn survivor of seven years past.  Coming up to the house I see kids being dropped off from school in a small auto rickshaw.  A cool looking man with a long white beard and John Lennon style glasses is standing in the road.  A man is herding his goats uphill.  Villagers are carrying heavy loads too and from the forest.  Kids are pumping water from the well. The van approaches and even before we all get out, Man Kumari extends her hand out to Sara and is already in tears.  Sara is the chief coordinator for ReSurge international who met Man Kumari this past year.  It is clear that she is happy to see us.

Inside Man Kumari’s house

She pulls out plastic chairs and we sit and talk outside before we set up the interview.  Man Kumari motions for me to come inside.  She pulls up her sari and reveals the massive scarring and discoloration on her right leg. Man Kumari’s tragic accident involved a kerosene lamp tipping over and her Sari lighting up in flames.  Her skin contracted behind her knees disabling her from walking.  Man Kumari is a poor woman, and access to health care is very limited in remote areas of Nepal. She didn’t have the means to make it to a hospital, and thought she might never walk again. Man Kumari expressed how difficult it was to live in her village without being able to walk.  As a single woman living alone, how could she possibly supply for herself? How was she supposed to get water?  Man Kumari said if she had to live like this forever, she would rather die.

Years later when Dr. Shankar first saw Man Kumari, she came into his office crawling on her knees.  Dr. Shankar enabled her to walk again, and essentially restored her life.

What’s amazing about this story is how the villagers responded to her tragedy. The villagers came together after the accident, each household gave her 20 rupees (the equivalent of 25 cents).  This enabled her to buy a bus ticket to Kathmandu to get surgery.  Two young men accompanied Man Kumari on her journey, carrying her to and from the bus, all the way to Kathmandu Model Hospital.

Villagers helped Man Kumari after she was badly burned

The villagers also built her a home that she lives in. It’s one room, with a bed and a place to cook.  I see a small alter embedded in the wall, and other little jems.  A true grandmother’s home.

Man Kumari expressed that the villagers are like God to her, especially her daughter who supported her through this whole process.  There have been so many cases where women get abandoned by their families, and shunned by society after a burn incident.  This is not that story, and so it leaves me with hope.

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Our founder, Phil Borges, along with two Volunteer Production Assistants, Rachel Gray and Catherine Cussaguet, are currently in Nepal working with Resurge International.  The organization does incredible work to provide free reconstructive surgeries for the poor and builds year-round medical access in underserved areas.   We will post their stories throughout the coming week.  

Bishal, who was badly burned after crawling into a cooking fire when he was 8 months old.

Written By Rachel Gray

Bisanti is a courageous twenty two year old mother from the Rolpa district in Nepal.  Her eldest daughter Binita is four years old and is a very energetic child.   Her youngest son Bishal is a year and half years old and sufferers from severe burns on his face, head, and hands.  Since the accident Bisanti’s husband has abandoned their family, running off with another woman in India.

Cooking over an open flame is very common in Nepal, and in many developing countries.  Women in rural villages often work in the fields harvesting for their families.  Often the children are left to take care of themselves while their mothers are out working.  When Bishal was eight months old he crawled into the cooking fire while his mother was out fetching water for the family.

When Bisanti came home to see her son in flames she was in total shock.  She immediately scooped him up and rushed him to the nearest hospital, a six-hour journey by bus. They stayed at the hospital for one week and then returned home after little care had been provided.  Bisanti was determined to get her son help.  She sold a portion of her land for 100,000 rupees to be able to afford a bus ticket to Kathmandu, an eighteen-hour journey, and surgery for her son.

Bisanti holding Bishal while talking to Dr. Shankar

When they arrived in the city, the family lived at a brickyard in the  foothills of the Kathmandu.  We accompanied Bisanti and her  children to the site for our first day of filming.  Families who live there greeted us, and Bisanti reunited with old friends.  Even though it was not the season for brick making, there were still women in the fields shoveling dirt.  Bisanti gave us an example of what work was like, strapping a cloth around her forehead carrying heavy bricks on her back, with her baby strapped to her front.  Bisanti worked in the brickyard in exchange for housing (a small brick shack), while her son was being operated on.

In addition to selling her land, Bisanti had to take out a huge loan to afford the initial surgeries performed on her son.  These surgeries are very expensive and it was hard to find a surgeon who would operate on such a small child. Eventually, Bisanti found out about Dr. Shankar at the Kathmandu Model Hospital, who provides surgeries for burn victims free of charge with the help of ReSurge international.  Dr. Shankar has done two surgeries on the child to repair his eyelid and done askin graft on his forehead. Bishal will need many more surgeries in the future.

Bisanti is a brave single mother. “There are not many brave people like her in this society.  The society maintains its integrity because of people like her” (Dr. Shankar, Kathmandu Model Hospital).  Bisanti explains that she will never abandon her children (like somemothers do in her case) and will always take care of them.  She will send Bishal and Binita to school and expects them to have a good education.

One Response to “From the Field: The Story of Bisanti and Bishal”

  1. what a story!! wish i were able to be there for this story!! wow!! please keep me posted of other experiences like this. hope everyone is good? best, michele

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Here is Part II of my interview with Phil around the topic of storytelling.  If you missed Part I, you can read it here.

It is a privilege to hear someone’s story. In the work that you’re doing with Stirring the Fire, you demonstrate that there are a lot of women and girls hurting around the world due to gender inequality. How do you hold the space of their personhood while eliciting key points from the individual that may be painful?

I have an advantage because usually someone has pre-screened these people to find the individuals who want to tell their story. They’ve come to this place after soul-searching. There was a girl in Liberia who approached us. We were out working in the field when all of a sudden we get a call saying “there’s a girl who wants to talk”. For this Liberian woman, we had to go to a secret place and hide because she couldn’t let anybody else in the community know. So we just rushed to the place, set up the camera and microphone and sat there while she talked. She tells us about a rape. She is now 27 but this occurred when she was 14. Holding the space, besides letting her talk, is me thinking how brave this person is and how honored I am that they are opening up. If it’s appropriate and I speak their language I say it, but it is just a matter of being there and listening. Usually when it’s happening, it’s fresh and raw, never talked about before. Usually it is a cathartic thing for the person. To answer your question I don’t think I do anything to hold the space other than be there and listen and think about how honored I am and how brave they are. I just hold them in admiration in my head more than anything.

I think people sense that.

I think probably they do. It probably translates across cultures.

Phil Borges Capturing the Story (Photo: Danielle Prince)

How do you formulate the structure of the story? Do you think about it beforehand or more in the moment while it is happening?

You always try to do as much of it beforehand as you can. Research, research, research! The trip I just came back from in Nepal is a perfect example. I tried to get as much information as possible about maternal health in that area, who was addressing it, how they were addressing it and who were the players and could I talk to them? I skyped with the birth attendant who I wanted to follow for the almost 30-day trek through the Himalayas. She was all set to go, and then, boom! I get a call saying she can’t go the whole way she has to return to Katmandu. What’s plan B? So I do as much beforehand as I can because you’re there for a limited time, not to prejudice myself to the story but to at least get an outline of how we are going to approach this. I’m looking for my central character. Who’s going to narrate this story and tie this whole thing together? I try to find this person as soon as possible.

Technical aspects: how do you capture emotion and mood of the story through the production elements such as sound, lighting and camera angels?

Mood you can set with lighting. I think music, the story itself and the person’s ability to get to their emotions even while being interviewed and filmed, is crucial. So in Syreeta’s case, the person we filmed in San Diego, we had a young woman who was very emotive, telling the painful story of being abused as a child. We have her emoting, and then we backed it up in a musical bed.

So it sounds like the core of it is finding the person who has these qualities of being present and emotional and accessible while being filmed, and everything else you tailor to fit that?

Yes, you enhance it.

In post-production?

Yes, you’re enhancing it in the edit with music, the way you pace it, the way you can do so much with lighting in post as well as pre. Music is the big one to me, and pacing.

How important is it to cover the past, present and future of an individual’s story? How do you accomplish this in film?

The back story, talking about the past, is usually really important. I try to accomplish this by having them talk about it, but you want to illustrate this as well. So you’re asking them for old video, home movies, photographs. Those are usually the best things. One of the old tricks is to go in someone’s house and start looking through their refrigerator. (Laughter) Past – get them talking about the back story, get someone who knows them talking about it, a child or neighbor or parent. Present – if there is something happening you try and find it and capture it. Hopefully they allow you into their world so that you can illustrate it. Future – have them talk about where they’re hoping to be, what they’re working towards, what they’re obstacles are and how they’re planning on approaching them. For future plans, show what the person is currently doing while talking about what their dreams are.

Do you have any questions for Phil?  Email them to

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Time for another interview with Phil.  I sat down with Phil only two days after he returned from a month-long journey in Nepal. Still warding off jet-lag, but full of interesting stories, he enthusiastically talked to me about storytelling, sharing his passion, thoughts and ideas around it.

Phil Borges Taking Stills with Curious Kiddos (Photo: Danielle Prince)

Today we’d like to hear about storytelling. I’m wondering if you can tell me what the most important aspect of telling individual stories is and why you tell individual stories.

I usually use stories to illustrate a situation or a social issue. Story is the best way to do this. It’s the centuries-proven way to deliver information. It’s the way cultures pass down information; the story has been used ever since cave paintings to transfer information. Stories of individuals are especially compelling to us as human beings. So I use individual stories to illustrate larger social issues. You just look around at our culture and see that people love individual stories. Think: People Magazine, biographies. It is just something we are attracted to. It’s just a vehicle for talking about bigger issues, to illustrate social issues.

So what are the crucial components to storytelling?

I’m doing my best and learning all the time. It is an art and you get better by doing it. To me one of the hardest things and one of the first things I look for is how to cast the story. Make sure you have the right individual to illustrate the story you’re wanting to tell, especially when you’re doing it with multimedia. You want to have somebody that has a compelling story and a compelling back story, one who presents well, and who an audience will be able to identify with. That’s the main thing: you want the audience to be able to identify with that person, see themselves in that situation, so they can really empathize. Then come all the other things that go along with storytelling: pacing, how you illustrate it, how you mix music and alliteration and visuals to make it really work and make it really compelling.

As the storyteller, what is your goal to share with your audience?

The main goal is to have people empathize. To have them take an issue that they may have never even thought of, wasn’t even a part of their world view or they knew nothing about, and illustrate it in a way that makes them care about it. If they care about it, hopefully they’ll be motivated to do something to address it. Maybe they’ll change their behavior, contribute more, or tell a friend about what moved them.

I assume that through your work you have been able to see this happen, that people are moved to act on certain issues you’ve brought to their attention.

I’ve heard about it, I haven’t seen it. People tell me: I got into this when you told a story on that topic; I went to your lecture, or read your book. I hear things but that’s the only way I really know. Metrics is a big thing. We’re starting to touch upon it in our workshops, trying to work with organizations in this capacity but sometimes it takes years to find it out. To be honest it’s mainly anecdotal any evidence I have. I go on what I feel is common sense. If enough people see it, it will do good and there will be certain percentages of that group who will be moved enough to do something.

Here is an example of a story that focuses on one person to illustrate the larger issue of poverty.  This film was created during our 2-week Social Documentary Workshop. If you would like to learn more about our workshops, including our upcoming opportunity in Vietnam, check out our application page.   

Foundation for Women Hero – Nancy from Stirring the Fire on Vimeo.

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We would like to invite you to join us on our upcoming Social Documentary Workshop in Thanh Hoa, Vietnam as part of our newest partnership with joinFITE.  The organization has brought us on to produce two short films and still images that profile individual women Heroes to illustrate the ripple effect of providing microloans to women.   This is where you would come in.  Over the course of two weeks, we will teach you how to create media for nonprofits while actually producing joinFITE’s films in the field.

Production Details:

Location: Thanh Hoa, Vietnam

Date: December 1st-15th, 2012

Workshop Participants: 6

Workshop Leader: Phil Borges

Tuition: $2500*

Deadline to Apply: Nov 5th, 2012

In-country Partner:  Fund for Thanh Hoa Poor Women (TCVM)

Description:  Following Kiva’s traditional microloan model, we will produce two short films, each one telling the story of a female microloan recipient in Vietnam.

During the workshop media producers will gain knowledge in all aspects of building a compelling multimedia story in a collaborative environment; including pre-production, storytelling, capturing still and video, post-production and distribution.

We are also finalizing the details for a second workshop also with joinFITE in Africa in early 2013. We will release further information once we know the exact location and dates.

If you are interested in either or both of these opportunities, please complete our online application by Nov 5th.

About joinFITE:

joinFITE is an active philanthropy platform, powered by and championed by Dermalogica, that connects the public to women entrepreneurs who need a hand up. By providing women access to small loans, they are able to start or grow a business, bettering themselves, their families, and their communities. powers the joinFITE platform, and is a non‐profit organization with a mission to connect people through lending to alleviate poverty. Leveraging the internet and a worldwide network of microfinance institutions, Kiva lets individuals lend as little as $25 to help create opportunity around the world.

*Workshop participants are responsible for travel expenses, lodging and food.


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“If I look at the mass, I will never act. If I look at the one, I will.”
– Mother Teresa

Syreeta Studying at the Library

To gain empathy for a larger issue you must start with an individual personal story.

In our latest multimedia piece, we told Syreeta’s story to introduce you to how Foundation for Women’s microfinance programming is bringing women out of poverty.

A relatable character is key and one of the best methods to engage your audience.  The audience needs to see or imagine themselves in the character or situation.  A character can be human, animal and even an object or a location–anything that has the ability to take action or suffer consequences can be a character. However, since stories are created and consumed by humans, a character is always viewed from a human perspective.

People help us relate and emotionally connect to the story.  Finding strong subjects is one of the most important jobs of the storyteller.  This is why it is crucial to do your research beforehand and hold pre-production interviews. Watch for our next workshop tip where we will share some guidelines to consider when choosing your character.

Interesting in learning more about multimedia production and storytelling? Apply for Stirring the Fire’s Social Documentary Workshops here.

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Stirring the Fire: storytelling to advance women and girls

Earlier this week we had a phone call with a new potential partner organization (exciting!).  They, like all of the other organizations we have been lucky to work with, understand that visual storytelling is crucial to informing, engaging and motivating their audience to take action.  Yet, we see that many organizations get stuck at the first step: articulating their story.

This is where we come in.  We start the pre-production process by helping organizations define their essence.  Without this critical piece, the foundation on which to build media risks being shaky, easily manipulated and two-dimensional.  The more grounded and human focused you get, the more effective your media will be.  Here are a few questions to get you started in defining the essence of your non-profit:

What is the nature of the problem you’re solving and how does your solution directly affect individuals, families, communities, countries, the world? We call this your ripple effect.  

Throw out the NGOish jargon that you use in abundance for grant proposals.  How would you explain your work to a 12 year old in 12 seconds?  We call this your 12-factor. 

What sets you apart from other organizations?  

Now go ask 3 teammates to answer the same questions.  Compare and combine answers.  What is your essence?

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This story originally appeared on, an action media network powered by women from 190 countries. World Pulse’s mission is to lift and unite women’s voices to accelerate their impact for the world. Through their growing, web-based platform, women are speaking out and connecting to create solutions from the front lines of today’s most pressing issues.

Judy Ochola

I have had the pleasure and good fortune to meet Judy Ochola in the virtual world of internet and email communication during this last year. I worked alongside her sister, Eunice, during my 6 weeks in South Sudan in 2010. Eunice and I have kept in touch, and knowing my passion around women and girls’ empowerment, has introduced me to is her sister, Judy. Judy’s internal strength and ambition to help young girls has touched me personally. It is my hope, that by sharing her story on the STF website, it will touch you too.

Judy’s Story

Growing up the sixth child in a family of ten in a small village in Siaya County was not the positive experience that it should have been. Having come from a large and poor family, my siblings and I went through a lot of challenges. My parents struggled to make ends meet: my father with his meager pay from his job in Nairobi, and my mother as a housewife at our rural village home.

Things became even worse when both our parents died of HIV/AIDS within a short span of each other. We had to find ways and means to survive and go to school at the same time. The rejection we went through in our own community, with neighbors ostracizing us, only added insult to the injury.

Both our parents having died without their first born son being married or having built a house, our homestead was “closed down” in accordance with Luo custom and traditional beliefs: i.e. we, the remaining children, could not step foot into what was once our family home, and had to rely on relatives in neighboring areas to take us in. We were considered outcasts in our own community and even our close friends whom we trusted did not want to be associated with us. The story was the same in school. I can remember that nobody wanted to sit close to us, share a seat or even shake hands with us due to fear of being infected.The struggle and fight of living with HIV/AIDS did not end there. Our last born brother, who was born HIV positive, was under our care, incapacitated by recurrent infections. Medication was very expensive at that time, and it reached a point where we could not take good care of him at home; we arranged to find him a caring place in an AIDS orphanage in Nairobi, Cotolengo Orphanage, where he tragically died a year later at the age of seven.

Typical Women’s Work, Worldwide. Photo: Danielle Prince

Despite of all the struggles and unspeakable horrors that we went through in our community, I still had hopes that one day life would change for the better. I worked hard and successfully completed both my primary and secondary education, even after dropping out of school several times. I never gave up or thought of getting into an early marriage, as most of the girls in my community do. With the help of some relatives and the bursary I received from the Rattansi Education Trust, I joined Kenya Utalii College, where I did a 2-year Certificate Program and graduated with honors. I then got a job with the Norfolk Hotel as a housekeeping supervisor, a position I held for a period of five years.

Judy’s Ambition

Being very ambitious and always wanting to move to greater heights, I enrolled at the Kenya Polytechnic College as a part-time student alongside my job at the hotel, and completed my Diploma in Business Management. Besides sponsoring my own studies, I still had the responsibility of taking care of my siblings and other needy relatives. In 2010 I was selected for a scholarship through the U.S. Department of State to further my studies and improve my skills. On June 16, 2010 I left for the United States to further my studies.

Though I never expected to reach this far, I was very excited because studying in the USA was one of my life-long dreams.  My studies and stay in the USA was the greatest experience in my life, and I was greatly impressed by the quality of education in the country. I was also fascinated by the close relationships, love, respect and the family feelings within the community where I lived. My friends enjoyed my company, but little did they know that beneath my happy exterior lay an undercurrent of despair, pain and rejection, only tempered by courage, hope and resolve to reclaim my life. I worked hard and graduated yet again with honors and came back to Kenya in August 2011. My employer, the hotel, had given me study leave before I departed, but a short time into my studies demanded that I send a letter of resignation, which I reluctantly did. Since my return, I have not been able to get another job, something which is very discouraging, considering the long path that I have gone through.

Typical Work Given to Girls

Judy’s Work to Empower Women & Girls

Despite my struggles, sadly very common in my home community, I believe that I have a responsibility to make a difference. I do not want women & young girls in my community to go through the same negative experiences that I went through. Having been an orphan from a large and poor family, I believe that I am well positioned to help young girls and woman who face the same challenges. I believe that my continued pursuit of knowledge and my desire to change the lives of women will make a great difference in my community and contribute to the development of Kenya as a nation.

The road to achievement has not been easy; I have struggled to make ends meet and also to lend a hand to the less fortunate. Because of my own personal experiences, I have a different perspective on the world and how people around me should be treated. I believe that my continued pursuit of knowledge and my desire to change the lives of women will make a great difference in my community and contribute to the development of Kenya as a nation.

Since 2007, I have been assisting St. Alice Angel’s Academy, a community-based primary school located in Bondo District of Western Kenya, which educates girls between 3 and 13 years old who have been orphaned (especially by HIV/AIDS) or are from impoverished local families. I have been donating clothes, food, books, and even the little money that I could spare (sometimes as little as $20) when I was working. Due to the increasing number of orphans, I am currently trying to write a proposal to mobilize funds to expand the school.

I strongly hope that my long-term commitment and desire to support girl child education in my community will one day bear fruit. The challenges I have faced have inspired me to be a mentor and a role model to other young girls. My hope is that through better education, and improved livelihoods, young girls will avoid early marriages and exposure to HIV/AIDS. It is my commitment to do whatever I can to influence such girls to go to school and get a quality education.

If you are interested in learning more about how you can help St. Angel’s Academy, please contact Judy Ochola directly at:

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“Stories matter. Many stories matter. Stories have been used to dispossess and to malign, but stories can also be used to empower and to humanize. Stories can break the dignity of a people, but stories can also repair that broken dignity.” -Chimamanda Adichie

Whenever I am asked the question, “why women’s stories?” Chimamanda Adichie’s TED talk immediately comes to mind. Her words remind us of the great power storytelling has to break the single story of individuals, cultures, and gender.

Here’s to more storytelling and abandoning the single story of what it means to be a woman.



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