As the auditorium lights dim, gradually images appear on the large screen at the Greensboro, NC Historical Museum. Then pictures appear rapidly, and we find ourselves immersed in a teenager’s world of clothes and music. But this is no ordinary teenager; Ajay grew up in a refugee camp in Bhutan, and in his short film he reflects on his youthful interests and how this contrasts with his distinct upbringing.

The stories of Ajay and Isabela, Mimi and Tino, Dal and Raj, Essa and Fernando – told by themselves in short videos - captivated the audience of more than 100 people during the third Movies without Borders Gala in late October.

These videos and others help AFSC’s immigrants rights program lift up the voices of immigrants themselves through digital storytelling.  Telling their stories, their way, helps redefine the common narrative of who immigrants are, and show how their experiences are shaping the evolving stories of our communities.

AFSC staffer Lori Fernald Khamala spoke for many when she said, “I believe that learning those stories builds a stronger, more loving community.  There is nothing as beautiful as the understanding of the human experience.”

At the Movies without Borders Gala,  the amateur filmmakers, their families and friends, volunteers and local community members shared not only the films but also food and conversation during a red-carpet reception after the showings. One attendee, project volunteer and former AFSC staffer Bonnie Parsons, said the project “provides a window into the hopes and dreams of the Piedmont’s newest residents. As Gandhi said, ‘A nation’s culture resides in the hearts and in the soul of its people.’ ”

The films document the story of Isabela, a young woman from Mexico who followed her lover to the US only to be left pregnant and alone, while she still a teenager.  Also detailed is Mimi’s journey from Congo and her creation of an organization to support her homeland, and Tino’s struggles in North Carolina’s tobacco fields after he left Mexico in search of a better life.  There are also the stories of Essa’s discovery of Islam and Fernando’s account of the car accident that ultimately brought him to the US.

This was the fourth digital storytelling class sponsored by AFSC’s Office of the Carolinas, partnering this time with HandyCapable Network and FaithAction International House in Greensboro.

AFSC-NC program staff has created their own original digital storytelling workshops, like Storyology in Charlotte, NC, as well. View AFSC’s Storyology films or to learn how to host your own digital storytelling class.

During this 2011 project, eight students representing Congo, Mexico, Bhutan, and Nepal, and eight volunteers gathered at a Greensboro computer lab, provided and organized by Trish Perkins of HandyCapable Network. Movies Without Borders gives students tools to recreate the stories that they want to tell with simple to use, low-cost equipment. Guest speakers and volunteers guided each student individually through the process.

What began as a room full of strangers quickly changed into a room full of laughter, shared experience, and creativity.  In this community of different beliefs, different backgrounds, and different strengths, the students grew closer as they understood each other’s individual experiences.

“Everyone has a story. And hearing –and seeing-the stories of our immigrant neighbors in this digital format is one of the most enriching and exciting projects I’ve ever worked on. It’s an intimate portrait of someone, and you realize, ‘that could be my neighbor, my daughter’s teacher, the person who sits next to me on the bus,’ “ says Lori.

AFSC staffers are seeking additional venues, including churches and community centers, at which to show the films. The workshops will continue with the next Storyology: Digital Storytelling by immigrants and refugees class is planned for Charlotte in January.