Pushing for Change through Digital Story-telling

digital story-telling

After participating in an intensive 5-day course on digital story-telling, 15 youths from informal settlements across Lagos State have learned how to produce their own digital stories about the social inequalities, extreme deprivations and forced displacement that they face everyday. Through a 7-part process, the participants comprising 8 males and 7 females, aged 20-35 years, from Badia-East, Otto-Ilogbo, Otumara, Ifeoluwa, Ebute-Metta communities, created compelling 2 to 5 minute videos including voiceovers, static and/or moving images, that deliver a personal story. The training was conducted under the auspices of the organization’s Ifesowapo project, with support from USAID’s Strengthening Advocacy and Civic Engagement Project (USAID-SACE).


Ifesowapo’s main strategy is to merge the use of trans-media tools and programs with a participatory action research (PAR) approach to build target group’s capacity to challenge and shift hegemonic narratives about slum dwellers. The PAR process, through the creation of digital stories, seeks to create a space for systemic inquiry and to amplify local knowledge in order to shift and counter the negative narratives as well as other arguments which are typically used to justify the displacement of slum dwellers. As an approach to research oriented toward solving a real-world problem or improving organizational or community-based processes and practices, PAR is designed to generate concrete action. In this context, this means addressing evictions in slum communities in Lagos.


In service of this goal, all the digital stories created sought to answer a question posed by the PAR steering committee and Spaces for Change (S4C) staff: How does the Lagos State Government perceive the urban poor living in Badia East and Ebute Metta and how does this perception impact their livelihoods and standard of living? Through the digital storytelling process described below, participants contributed insights and stories that help to answer this question and simultaneously serve as tools for taking action. [SEE PHOTOS OF THE TRAINING HERE]



Digital Storytelling (DST) is a workshop-based methodology that focuses on the everyday person’s ability to share aspects of their life story.[1]The DST methodology was developed in the mid 1990s in San Francisco, U.S.A., by the Center for Digital Storytelling. Since that time, it has been adopted by many organizations and individuals and designed to fit a range of contexts. Through a 7-part process, storytellers create compelling 2 to 5 minute videos that include a voiceover, and static and/or moving images, that deliver a personal story. The process includes: 1) clarifying one’s insights,2) owning one’s emotions, 3) identifying a particular moment or experience that illustrates those insights, 4) identifying and creating visuals to illustrate the chosen moment, 5) writing and then voicing the experience and moment, 6) assembling all the pieces to create one’s digital story, and finally 7) sharing this story. [WATCH ONE OF THE VIDEOS: Sad Over Her Loss]


Process is critical in digital storytelling (DST). DST is grounded in the belief that the act of telling one’s story can have a profoundly empowering impact on the storyteller[2]. Through the iterative process of crafting one’s story, participants in a digital storytelling workshop actively reflect on the moments they are sharing and the insights they are relaying. Consciously and sub-consciously, participants engage with the emotions surfaced. Oftentimes they tap into deeper layers of meaning as they retell their stories. For participants in the Ifesowapo workshop, this was especially important as some had not previously had the opportunity to share or process the experiences they crafted their digital stories around. In reflecting on sharing his story, one participant whose story was about police brutality remarked, “I thank God for the opportunity to share my feelings. It happened in 2014, but I don’t have the opportunity to share it with people and to put it out that this is what I experience in my community and it should not be so.”


Furthermore, because one intention of the Ifesowapo project is to, “nurture new leaders with enhanced political agency and social empowerment to engage state institutions and influence changes to urban policy design and implementation,” practicing controlling one’s narrative is immensely relevant and valuable. This workshop was empowering because of the content of the stories produced. Stories covered a range of topics from the devastating impact of forced evictions to the life and death consequences of not having access to critical basic services. In addressing such a range of important issues, workshop participants exerted their power to be a part of shifting dominant narratives that vilify urban poor communities.


DST Researchers argue that storytelling is a way of dealing with trauma.[3] This was evident in the Ifesowapo workshop, as participants relayed deeply emotional stories. For example, one participant shared a story about the death of her baby sister due to a fire breaking out in her home and slow action by the Lagos State Fire Services. In her initial recounting of the story, in an attempt to create some emotional and cognitive distance, she referred to her sister as “the girl,” and she expressed no feelings about her experience, simply recounting the facts in an almost mechanical way. Michael White & David Espton, directors of counseling centre’s using narrative therapies argue that, “by re-telling one’s own story—that is by using different kinds of imagery and exploring alternative ways of interpreting one’s reality – storytelling can provide a sense of hope, belonging, and meaning for people in light of traumatic experiences.” As the aforementioned participant worked through her story over the course of the week, she began to explore alternative ways of interpreting her story. She provided more detail, shifted from blaming herself and her mother for the fire to questioning why the Lagos State Fire Services took so long to arrive, and finally, sharing her emotions about the tragic incident. After the screening of her final digital story, she remarked, “I feel sad every time I tell the story.” Through the digital storytelling process, this participant and others were able to begin working through their trauma. .



Over the course of the Ifesowapo workshop, all 15 participants were given the opportunity and skills necessary to produce their own digital stories. This allowed for the deepening and building of valuable ICT skills. For example, participants practiced basic computer and internet navigation and developed new skills in the usage of video production software. While most participants had used computers in the past, their limited access meant that they were not all proficient in using this technology.  As such, the opportunity to practice basic skills like using a mouse and opening and closing files in service of a real project was valuable. Beyond this, all 15 participants learned how to use the cloud-based video editing program, WeVideo. While low cost, this program is designed around the same logic of any number of consumer and professional grade video editing platforms, so participants developed a capacity that is truly transferable. A young woman who became particularly adept at using WeVideo shared in a reflection with the group that she’d “like to work in a studio.”


The stories developed by Ifesowapo participants touched on themes as broad as police inaction and brutality, inter-communal and cult violence, the experience of being evicted multiple times, and the impact of inadequate public services. In reflecting on their stories, most participants identified the Lagos State Government as the audience they sought to reach. They also shared key insights about concrete actions the Lagos State Government could take that have the potential to tackle the root causes of the social exclusion and marginalization their communities experience. Below are highlights of some of the insights offered around recurring themes.


Community Safety & Security

9 of the 15 stories produced touched on themes of police inaction and brutality, and/or inter-communal and cultist violence. Many recounted negative encounters with the police, particularly the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS); others shared stories about the police colluding with neighborhood cults and perpetrators of violence. They all articulated or reinforced the idea that the Lagos State Government has a critical role to play in shifting responses and actions taken by the police. Many asserted that the Lagos State Government has already been engaged in deploying police forces in Badia East and Ebute Metta and controlling their actions in these communities. This challenges the prevailing assumption that jurisdictional boundaries prevent the Lagos State Government from intervening in the actions of the Federal Nigerian police force.

Another important insight surfaced by the stories focused on community safety and security is the idea that homegrown institutions for community security need to be respected and reinforced. Two of the stories shared focused on police brutality against community security officers. One storyteller who recounted how his friend and mentor, a well respected Community Security Officer was shot twice by the police in the span of minutes, argued, “It is necessary that government should recognize our security…They should empower what is already on ground. They [Community Security Officers] are the primary security. Police station can come in as secondary security.”


Discussions of cultist violence came up as well. There was general apprehension as one storyteller mentioned the name of a cult group when recounting the violence he experienced at their hands. The fear these groups inspire was palpable as his workshop colleagues heatedly debated whether he should redact their name and blur his appearance in the version of his story that would be shared publicly. Another storyteller recounted his experience of leaving home in order to keep from being caught in the cross hairs of dueling street gangs in his neighborhood. There was a sense that neither the police forces nor the Lagos State government are particularly concerned with rooting out this cultist violence. Rather, participants felt that these institutions often contribute to the ferment caused by cult groups.

Numerous participants pointed out the irony that many community members are terrified of these cults, yet their entire neighborhoods are vilified and condemned as harboring this violence. One digital story that drew attention to collusion between the Federal police force and cult members, inspired heated conversations around the best way to engage the police when incidents of cult violence occur. Some people had lost hope that any change was possible, while others proposed strategies for pinpointing and then circumventing the spaces where collusion is happening.  One storyteller, after sharing how he had been beaten up by a cult group, solemnly ended his digital story with a profound question and response. He asked “Who will save us?” and after a long pause, remarked, “You and I.”  As a contrast, another storyteller exclaimed, “You can feel what we the youth are passing through. To government, I would say there should be security personnel in the community. They shouldn’t [just] come and go.”

Demolitions &Evictions

5 of the 15 stories produced touched on the themes of demolition and forced evictions. Two workshop participants recounted stories of how they and their families had experienced multiple forced evictions in rapid succession. Another shared a story about the threat of eviction. In her telling, the presence of fear was so powerful that it almost became  a character in the story. “We don’t even know the day it will be. We are just hearing the rumors,” she said. She went on to explain that she had, “no confidence that government would adequately move or compensate people.”


Stories also called out the role of the Lagos State Task Force (the Lagos State Environment and Special Offences Enforcement Unit) plays in evictions.  Workshop participants asserted that they are the agency typically involved in evicting residents from Ebute Metta and Badia East.


Another important set of actors in perpetuating forced evictions, one storyteller contended, are royal families. In expanding on her story highlighting the fear of eviction in Otumara, a sub neighborhood of Ebute Meta, she asserted, “Government and [the] King always work together. If they want to do demolition, they must work together.”


Fires &Poor Access to Public Services

2 of the 15 stories produced touched on experiences with fire and poor access to public services.  Storytellers recounted how they’d lost property and loved ones as fire tore through their homes and neighborhoods. In all incidences, response times from the Lagos State Fire Services were extremely slow at best or entirely absent.  Linking the absence of the Fire Services to perceptions of the urban poor, one storyteller argued, We living here, we are nothing. If it had been a developed community, they would have come to our rescue.”


Workshop participants drew connections between access to basic services and their experiences with fires.  One story teller began, “due to the problem of electricity we have, that place burned down.” She later expanded, “when government is not giving regular light [electricity] in a community, such a thing can happen.”


Another storyteller shared that when her and her neighbors queried the Fire Services about their delayed response, they blamed the poor access into the community. “Had it been we had good road, we wouldn’t have been rendered homeless,” she concluded.  Connecting the Lagos State Government to her experience, she shared that the area that had been devoured by fire was subsequently razed. Though this happened years ago, she explained, “the place is now empty. No response during fire, no response after fire.”


[1]WomenWin Digital Storytelling Toolkit

[2] Ibid

[3] Deutsch, Rachel. Storytelling and Trauma: Reflections on “Now I See it,” A Digital Storytelling Project and Exhibition in Collaboration with the Native Women’s Shelter of Montreal.



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