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Gillie Collins

Gillie Collins, '15

Storytelling as community building

The summer after my freshman year, I found myself crushed into a taxi with five other people, heading to my first day of work in Congotown, Liberia. That morning, it rained in torrents, and the roadside markets were eerily empty: the plantains packed up, the vendors hiding under umbrellas. Approaching the Hope Community Center, I worried that no one would turn up for the workshop.

I was wrong. By 10 AM, fifteen girls with damp clothes had trickled into the classroom. As a group, we decided on a name for our collective, and I wrote it on the chalkboard: "Story Society."

As a Haas Fellow, I spent the summer facilitating the "Story Society," a writing and reading program for Liberian girls ages 14-19. Using novels to spark group discussions, individual presentations, and creative writing exercises, we kept daily journals and wrote poetry as a group.

At the close of the program, the girls performed their original stories for their friends and family. Again, the clouds burst, the sky emptied itself—but the Hope Community Center filled to capacity. The girls clapped loudly for each other.

Gillie Collins, ’15 studied English and international relations.
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