How do we know about other people’s lives apart from the mainstream narratives reported in the news?
Perhaps by travelling or reading blogs – although the former is proving difficult with COVID-19.
Joost and 4 co-founders have come up with another option. They created Correspondents of the World, an online platform where people from all over the world share their personal stories in relation to global developments. They are optimistic that sharing personal experiences helps to better understand one another and to bring us closer together again.
Today I’ll share Joost’s, Janosch’s and Mira’s very own story of how they created Correspondents of the World.
The power of stories
Joost has always particularly enjoyed hearing stories from people themselves rather than reading about them in the news. For example, when people from Iran explain how climate change affects their water supply. Or when someone describes what it is like to live with a certain sexual orientation in a certain country. Personal stories have the power to make global issues more relatable and human than when these issues are presented in numbers or in a very generalised way in the news.
How a long car ride got the ball rolling
In August 2019, on a long car ride somewhere between Lille and the Netherlands, Joost decided to start collecting all those wonderful stories he got to hear from people. Soon after, he called his former fellow student Mira to tell her about the idea. After a short moment of surprise – “Hey, cool to catch up after like 3 years” – Mira was excited about the idea. She was in Nepal at the time and wanted to share the impressive stories of the people she met there. As more and more stories came together, Janosch came into play. He created a website that provided a platform for the stories and especially their writers. By now, the whole team consists of 20 members, including dedicated editors, translators, regional ambassadors, social media and community managers.
Perspectives off the beaten track
Correspondents of the World already features 50 stories from 34 countries that give an impression of how people experience global issues differently around the world. The point, however, is not to simply report global news. Rather, it is about how people experience those matters related for example to COVID-19 or the environment. Unlike newspaper articles, it is about your unique individual perspective, your feelings and thoughts. And this can be quite a challenge to write about when you are used to having to write objectively or to make some kind of point backed up by sophisticated reasoning.
Reading other people’s lived experiences reveals perspectives beyond the dominant narratives presented in the media. Kamelia Khalil, 25 years old and from Bulgaria, for example, tells her story of how she did not migrate from Syria but to Syria. She writes about how she was seeking new opportunities and connections, about her new work as an English teacher in Damascus and her beautiful neighbourhood.
When I used to think of Syria, I immediately thought of civil war, immense hardship and refugees. Kamelia’s story made me realise that I had put an entire country including its population under these labels. Stories like hers can open our eyes to the fact that there is more beneath the surface of the big narratives that we know of.
Everyone has a story to tell
But Correspondents of the World is not merely about broadening perspectives and learning about each other’s experiences. It is just as much, and perhaps more importantly, about the people who share their stories on the platform. One of the reasons that drive Janosch in the project is the realisation that: “We give those stories some momentum. We help people broadcast their voice”. Initially, a lot of authors said that their story was not interesting and not worth to be shared. After they were encouraged to do so anyway, they realised that they actually had something to say. They realised that their story matters and that other people are interested in what they have to say.
Relating the different “bubbles” of the world
Ultimately, the long-term goal and vision are to foster understanding between people. They are optimistic that sharing personal experiences helps to better understand one another and to bring us closer together again. “We try to relate the different bubbles that exist in the world of different generations, different educational backgrounds, different countries, different genders. We’re trying to merge these bubbles in a constructive way to enter into dialogue with each other about the differences and the commonalities that we share.”, Joost describes. Translations and audio versions aim to make the stories accessible to as many people as possible.
Next to the platform, Correspondents of the World is also beginning to grow into a larger community. Actual (online) meetings, called ‘Tea Talks’, enable the exchange facilitated by the platform to also take place ‘face-to-face’.
A key element in exchanging views – whether in person or via the platform – is to practice talking to each other in a constructive and non-judgmental way. The emphasis is on exchanging rather than judging.
“We want to foster understanding and dialogue between people and we want different bubbles to meet each other.”
And they and all of us get a little closer to that with every personal story we share and read. The story of Correspondents of the World has just begun and we can look forward to hearing its sequel.
Thanks for reading and thank you, Joost, Janosch and Mira, for sharing your story.