A Crafting Series

By: Jill Stockburger

This week I had the privilege to speak with three photographers living in the
Kakuma Refugee camp in Kenya. These three photographers, two women and one man, from three different ethnic backgrounds were born in Kakuma and now have children of their own. When they were young children, at first they were not allowed to play with one another due to differing ethnic backgrounds. Over time however, their lives and stories became more intertwined and a deeper understanding formed about their lived experiences and differences. Now as adults they lean into their older generations to tell and to remember the roots of their ethnic heritages, places they have never seen but yet feel deep within. They learn from the younger generation through witnessing the playful interactions amongst thirteen diverse nationalities and even more ethnic groups.

These three photographers have discovered play as adults as they collaborate through the art medium of photography, an artistic expression of narrative storytelling. As they explained, although they appreciate those who have tried, no one can tell their stories better than they can full of the dignity, the hurt, the strength, the injustice, the trauma, the culture-making, the tears of joy, anger, sadness, frustration, and tears of laughter, the layers in them and around them, the nuances of their race, ethnicity, gender, and cultural expressions.

As I listen to their stories and share mine, there is a needed expansion within me and a pathway to deeper healing.

“Throughout life, imagination remains a key to emotional resilience and creativity. Deprivation studies demonstrate that fantasizing-imagining the inner life of others and comparing to one’s own-is one of the keys to developing empathy, understanding, and trust of others, as well as personal coping skills.” – Brown and Vaughan

Empowered to Connect seeks to empower individuals to tell their stories through establishing shared voice, respect, and sensitivity to lifelong learning, while fully acknowledging no one can tell your story better than you can. Whose voice is missing within our families, our communities, our cultures?

“Tears remove the dust from your heart.” – Jagadeesh Kumar

“The child who is not embraced by the village will burn it down to feel its warmth”- African proverb

“So much is distilled in our tears, not the least of which is wisdom in living life. From my own tears I have learned that if you follow your tears, you will find your heart. If you find your heart, you will find what is dear to God.” – Ken Gire

Story Handkerchief, Scarf, Mask

Ages: Age 5 to Adults

This intervention should be done in a dyadic relationship with another person. It allows us to reframe and expand our view of family, humanity, and connection while strengthening our own intrapersonal skills and shaping interpersonal communication and intimacy. Find a friend or family member with a different racial, ethnic, cultural background than yourself. As you seek to understand the other’s perspective, you will further your self-awareness, learning, and expansion through mutual empowerment.

Supplies: handkerchief, different colored sharpies, rubbing alcohol
*Don’t forget to look for multicultural marker packs. Color is important.


  • Using the colored sharpies, draw pictures or write words that tell pieces of your story, all different parts. The opportunity to draw your story provides a space where finding words can be difficult. Often what inhibits our healing from trauma is the inability to find language to express what we’ve encountered. This expression provides voice to the many layers of our experiences, and the intersections of our many identities.
  • Afterwards share your story with the other person. Notice any sensations that arise in your body as you listen. Take a deep breath. Stay present. Hold space. Listen. Learn.
  • Discuss whether you would like to leave the story handkerchiefs as is or if you would like to move to the next step of releasing the image through a few drops of rubbing alcohol squeezed onto the handkerchief and pressed together among your hands creating a tie-dyed effect, a symbol of tears. This can be an important step. Some might need to hold this phase of grief longer. Respect the space and pace. Fun Fact: Tears release oxytocin and endorphins. These chemicals ease physical and emotional pain.
  • A further final step upon mutual agreement would be to exchange the handkerchiefs with one another, a tangible reminder of the shared stories and connection. Consider wearing the other person’s artistic story as a scarf or mask (COVID-19 essential 😉 )reflecting on their experiences further stretching the beauty of those empathy muscles.

Feel free to run with this exercise in a variety of diverse ages, relationships
and in groups. Listen to the unknown history unfold.

The picture below is a group of children’s story scarves joined together in a quilt from Sunnyside Queens, home of a diverse naturalized immigrant population. The children decided to take their individual stories and their symbolic tears held and transform it into a symbol of comfort. Lament truly takes us to Real Hope.

About the author: Jill Stockburger is a counseling intern with Memphis Family Connection Center as she obtains her Masters Degree in Mental Health Counseling and Expressive Arts Therapy through Lesley University in Cambridge, Mass.
Jill loves to see all the arts modalities of visual art, music, drama, dance, and creative writing integrated with TBRI principles.

Categories: News


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