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Life, Lessons, and Laughter: Digital Storytelling in Kenya

by Devin Jones
16-Mar-16
Life, Lessons, and Laughter: Digital Storytelling in Kenya


Why do people tell stories? This guiding question led the way for Grade 7 students from the International School of Kenya (ISK) on their quest for an authentic cultural exchange. October 12–15, students and their teachers spent five days at the Rift Valley Adventures Camp, and at Irura Community School, to engage in a digital storytelling project.
The framework for our project was a nexus between Irura Community School liaison, Joyce Kiragu, and the ISK Humanities department. The curricular theme was “humans and their relationship to their environment.” However, as often happens in project-based schoolwork set in an authentic context, other curricular connections—namely, English and technology standards—were also addressed. Additionally, ISK’s “21st-century learner AIMS” were used to assess students’ work.
Our efforts began long before our intercultural trip as students from both schools researched their families’ cultural lessons taught through story. Students interviewed parents and grandparents about traditional stories, folktales, and legends. We then probed our second guiding question: “Why is storytelling important to a culture?” Next, students chose a story to share and learned the elements that make up a good digital story: a dramatic question; point of view; emotional content; pacing; voice; developing creative tension; parallel structure; and lastly, unfolding lessons learned. The final task before meeting each other and sharing our cultural stories was to commit each story to memory. With command of a personal cultural story in mind, ISK students packed their bags and headed to Irura Community School.
Upon arrival, we assembled to share our cultures through the medium of story. ISK students used iPads to record the stories of their Irura peers, all of which were told in the local language, Agikuyu. The Agikuyu tribe is one of 43 different tribes in Kenya, and each has its own language. A story summary was shared in English for the benefit of ISK students, but we would have to wait until we returned to the ISK campus for help translating the entire story text. ISK students were then treated to an outdoor theatrical performance of the Agikuyu tribe’s creation story. The students from Irura Community School were outstanding in their portrayal of this famous Kenyan story.
Additional cultural awareness was gained when students paid a visit to Cho Cho, a 97-year-old Agikuyu grandmother. Everyone gathered outside her shamba (garden) to hear stories of her life as a young girl. She enthusiastically shared her stories, and Joyce expertly translated to English. The hour spent in Cho Cho’s presence was simply magical! She clearly enjoyed sharing her life experiences, and at one point had us on our feet singing and dancing. It was over way too fast; gifts, hugs, and fond farewells were exchanged. This experience was one of those days in life that is not soon forgotten, if ever. With buses loaded full of memories, we began our return journey to Nairobi to complete our work.
Back in the classroom, we were met by four of our ISK Agikuyu support staff: Milka Kamau, Peter Mubia, Michael Kimani, and Jayne Ngehte. With their expert bilingual translation skills, we rendered the recordings of the Irura Community School stories into English. Each ISK student was now tasked with creating a digital story in iMovie that recreated the Agikuyu story with pictures, sound, and English subtitles. After much problem solving and creative trial and error, the digital recreations of Agikuyu traditional stories were complete. Students celebrated by sharing their projects, presenting to small groups of students, parents, and teachers. But we were not yet done.
At the time of this writing, students continue to submit their iMovie projects to a Grade 7 shared folder. When all digital stories are collected, we will gift these projects back to the Irura Community School library. Here, they will be uploaded to the school’s new Brck tablets and become a part of the school’s Social Studies program. Brck tablets are key tools in a new Kio Technology Kit purchased by ISK students for the Irura School.
“The kit consists of 40 customized tablets that aim to enrich students’ learning through Internet access, educational materials, and games. The Kio Kit and school Internet access both run from solar power, making it financially and environmentally sustainable” (Dipesh Pabari, Rift Valley Adventures, 2015).
Our digital storytelling project made numerous meaningful and long-lasting impressions, but perhaps none more important than this: The morals and life lessons of the Agikuyu people in Kenya do not differ much from those in many other countries around the world. It turns out we are more alike than different in our cultural beliefs and values. All curricular standards aside, perhaps this is the digital storytelling project’s most valuable outcome.
Devin Jones is a Grade 7 Humanities teacher at ISK.




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