In early December all roads led to Durban where FunDza ran two creative writing workshops called ‘Me With You’ with two groups of students and out-of-work youth. The workshops were funded by the UNHCR and were run in conjunction with Zoe-Life in Westville. The Zoe-Life team had selected the participants from communities they work with, in and around Durban, and provided their wonderful venue and very tasty food! It could not have gone better and we are so grateful to them for organising everything so well.

As FunDza’s content developer I designed the workshop materials and course with assistance from our literacy specialist, Dorothy Dyer, and I was very lucky to have the support of amazing and creative co-facilitators to run the workshops: Ndibulele Sotondoshe, who inspired the participants with his poem ‘That’s where I’m From’, and acclaimed author Sifiso Mzobe, who writes and mentors for FunDza and who joined us from Umlazi. It was exciting for the participants to meet authors and hear them read their own work.

We didn’t know much about the participants before we ran the workshops and that meant we needed to be flexible and adaptable in our writing programme. We were astounded by the writing that came out of the two-day workshops – the fresh, creative voices that emerged, and the enthusiasm of the participants in contributing to both the writing and role-play activities.

The first group we met consisted of varsity students and activists with most claiming they had never done any creative writing before. To our surprise, the group came to the party! The pieces of writing they came up with left our tongues wagging; their creativity is from the future. The fact that they knew each other before the workshop improved their working relationship and their group activities were nothing short of amazing! We encouraged them to write in their mother-tongue if they found this easier and a couple of participants then chose to write in isiZulu, which Sifiso translated. One of the participants who offered to perform left the stage blazing after reciting her isiZulu poem that came out of the process, and we all felt proud of our African roots.

The first group raised the bar so high we wondered if the second one would maintain the set standard – and we got more than we bargained for. The second group had about eight refugees, and that means other African stories were heading our way. One participant from the DRC detailed to us how war has affected his country and how he had had to learn English in just three months when he moved to South Africa.

By the end of the two-day workshop all the participants had written two poems and one narrative essay. The structured poem, that calls on memories, and starts each line with ‘I remember…’ produced such moving and powerful writing and really sparked the imagination of the writers. The other poem, ‘That’s Where I’m From’ provided wonderful insights into the participants lives and daily experiences. We truly did ‘Share our Stories’.

For us, it was more than just a workshop. Not only did it inspire us to tap into our creativity more, it also showed us how stories could be used as therapy and help us heal. I’m certain that the workshop will give birth to one or two novelists, and it’s just a matter of time before we read their work!

Click here to read the work that came out of these ‘Me With You’ workshops.

And here are comments from the participants’ evaluations:

“I loved it as I learnt how to write a poem and descriptive essay as I had never written anything like that before.  I learnt more about writing in just two days than I have since I was born. It was fun, and hopefully we’ll have another one in the near future.”

“I like the way that Ros, Ndibs and Sifiso mentored me. Thank you so much guys for carrying me under your wing. I had no clue when I first came here about creative writing poem and novels but now I can say with confident that I can write a poem. I like the food and biscuits!

“The workshop was an eye opening experience, it really helped me improve my creative writing skills.”

“The workshop was a wonderful experience. It helped with engaging with my creativity and made me aware of the skill I have in writing. The facilitators were friendly and guided us into realizing our potential. I would’ve loved to have more days whereby our stronger points could be explored and polished. All in all, it was a great adventure and I’d do it all over again.”

”I really enjoyed it, it shows that I can be a writer.”