How to Tell a Story so People Pay Attention

Posted on Posted in communication, STM, Travel

A number of years ago I met Foday. He was tall, lanky and busy. Always moving. His young sons would run to hang on him whenever he could find his father taking a break, which was not often. Foday knew how to smile. A kind man, he quietly lit up a room.

Boday Sierra Leone
Foday & Sons – Kabala, Sierra Leone

Foday wanted what every good father wants. The best opportunity for his sons to succeed in life.  I don’t know if I really understood that as much as I do today – my two daughters have probably helped me understand this in a new way.

The problem was that we were in Sierra Leone. A country that had just come out of a savage and brutal time. Many people in the community shared the physical scars of the war.

Foday introduced me to a farmer with a missing arm.

Rebels had stopped this particular farmer and asked him a question”Do you want a short sleeve or a long sleeve shirt?The man didn’t understand that his answer would determine where his arm would be hacked off by machete. He chose a long sleeve shirt and they held him down and cut off his hand.

Foday was our protector. Up earliest every morning as well as up late at night. One night I heard a tremendous racket. Chairs were flying. Shouts in the night. It was only the next morning I heard that they had killed a cobra trying to get into the house.

Foday was our main helper. He worked incredibly hard to make a better life for his family. There is a lot of talk about African corruption, the lack of drive or laziness of people in developing nations. I find most of the people who talk the most have never spent time in the community and had a chance to meet a man like Foday. I wish you could, I think you would like him too.

My life intersected with his for only a couple of short weeks. I, and some CAUSE interns were there to do some theatre work for HIV/AIDS awareness and we were able to give him some employment for a short time. But he gave me so much more. I remember his lessons about how to harvest bananas. His laugh as he watched us shower in the rain.

I don’t know if I will ever find out what happened to Foday. I probably will never return to Kabala. He lives in an incredibly poor country and in a remote area. Was he able to put his kids through school?

To this day, the story of Foday matters to me, it influences who I am. I learned a lot about family and bravery from Foday. I saw the perseverance of the man. I saw his capacity to care and love for others. I recognized his pride in his family and how his hard work was making a difference.

I only met him for a few weeks, but he is in my heart and mind when I talk to people about travel and international sustainable development. By all measures, Foday is the poorest of the poor, but when I remember his face and his smile I think about his capacity and his ability much more than his need.

Maybe you have warped ideas about international development.

You see yourself as the hero in the story when you are really (like I was) the sidekick in Foday’s story. He may not ever remember me, I was there for a short time and I left. He remains the one working to change the life of his family, his community and his country.

My advice? You need to get on a plane, travel overseas, and meet a person like Foday for yourself. Ignore words like “the poor and just go meet people like Foday. Capable, hard-working, fun! Discover amazing people and become inspired as you continue your journey towards a meaningful life.

I don’t go to help the poor, I go because I get to.

I hope you were able to understand me a little bit more through this story.

Stories matter. They are what moved me to start my own journey. Find and share your own stories. We all have stories, sometimes it just takes a little coaxing to get them out.

If you want to figure out how to tell your own stories a little better, click on the following slideshow. In less than 2 minutes, I will give you the same short, simple questions I just used to tell the story of Foday. I recently used these questions to coach a new group of international volunteers on how to tell their stories. It will help you as well:

Have you met a guy like Foday, what was their name?

Mark Crocker

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