An impactful trip to Malaysia, Ghana, and Colombia in Spring 2019

When I began my role as Research Associate on the StoryLab project, I did so knowing that I would spend the next few months travelling to three countries I had never before visited – Malaysia, Ghana, and Colombia. It’s a tough job, but somebody’s got to do it!

The aim of my trips was to conduct and film semi-structured interviews with StoryLab workshop participants in order to gather evidence of the kinds of impact that the StoryLab project has had (and continues to have) on their lives.

Malaysia

As Malaysia was the first location for the StoryLab workshops, it felt appropriate to begin my investigation where it all started. I arrived in Kuala Lumpur on 6th May for a week of catching up with the Malaysian filmmakers and writers who took part in the Storylab workshop in 2017. I say “catching up”, but in actual fact this would be the first time that I would personally get to meet this diverse group of filmmakers and writers, having only recently joined the project.

The famous Petronus Twin Towers by night, Kuala Lumpur

I was lucky enough to meet 5 of the Storylab Malaysia participants during the week and I conducted and filmed interviews with all five of them in various locations in and around KL, including the up and coming suburb of Cyberjaya Selangor that boasts an eco village.

This was my first ever visit to Malaysia and alongside conducting my work for Storylab, I was very excited to be able to experience some of the things that KL had to offer. As it happened, my arrival in KL coincided with the start of Ramadan and this was a very interesting time to be in this predominantly Muslim country. However, religious and ethnic diversity is one of the characteristics of Malaysian culture, and one of the most interesting places I was able to visit before I left, were the beautiful Hindu temples inside the Batu Caves. As an animal lover, I was perhaps most delighted to observe the army of monkeys that have made their home in the caves and temples. 

A long colourful staircase leads up to the entrance to the Batu Caves
One of the many residents of the Batu Cave temples

Ghana

Following a quick pitstop in London to obtain my visa, I flew to the city of Accra on 20th May. The wave of heat that hit me as I left the airport quickly let me know that I had arrived in Africa. 

The bustling central market in Accra

The majority of the StoryLab participants from Accra were connected in some way to the National Film and Television Institute (NAFTI), which is where the original workshop took place. During the week I was there, and with the help of StoryLab colleague, Sarah Kuntoh, who is based at NAFTI, I gathered together 9 of the StoryLab members at NAFTI. Just as with the Malaysian interviews, the interviews with the Ghanaian participants yielded many interesting comments, updates on their lives, and, most importantly, examples of our research impact.

In between interviews, I visited the Arts Centre, where local artisans display their crafts. I watched in awe as these skilled men and women carved intricate sculptures, sewed colourful fabrics, and painted artistic depictions of Ghana. I was even treated to a drum performance and a mini lesson from one group of drum makers. Several souvenirs of this pleasant afternoon now sit proudly in my Lancashire living room.

A performance and lesson from a local drum maker
Antique masks for sale at the Arts Centre in Accra

Colombia

No sooner had I returned from Accra than it was time to set off for Colombia. This time, however, I would not be travelling alone. My trip happily coincided with the second StoryLab workshop that was to be delivered in the city of Ibagué and as such, I was travelling with my colleagues, Prof. Erik Knudsen and Dr Nico Meisner. We arrived in Ibagué on 2nd June and met with our Colombian colleagues, Dr Sandra Carolina Patiño and Pilar Pedraza.

The mountains surrounding the beautiful city of Ibagué

Many of the previous workshop participants had travelled from across Colombia to attend this second workshop in Ibagué so in between the group activities and talks, I was able to conduct interviews with these returning participants. Over the week, I was able to conduct 6 interviews, but as I am not able to speak Spanish, I was extremely grateful for the help of our two interpreters, Diego and Julian, as well as Pilar for her help with transcription.

In addition to the interviews, I had designed a survey for all those attending to complete. This included some writers and filmmakers who were new to StoryLab this time. 100% of participants felt that this second workshop had provided them with an invaluable networking opportunity with 60% stating that this had led to them discussing a new creative collaboration with a fellow participant. These and other results of the survey are very encouraging for future StoryLab work.

Evidence of Impact

Now that I have returned to the UK, I am busy analysing the interviews and survey data so that we can identify specific areas of impact. This includes editing the interviews and other footage into a short documentary on StoryLab’s research impact.

Whilst analysing the evidence of impact I have gathered, I find myself reflecting on the impact that StoryLab has had on my own life as a filmmaker and researcher. Meeting such a wonderful group of filmmakers and writers from all three countries has certainly been inspirational for my future work as a filmmaker, giving me new ideas and hopefully future collaborations.

Travelling to these far-off places has exposed me to new cultures and left a lasting impression on me. I can only hope that I will have the opportunity to return and learn more about these wonderful places.

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