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As the photographer prepared the group shot of the Power of Women Group to accompany the In Our Own Voices writing project, one of the women – between jokes, adjustments, and latecomers– said it reminded her of posing for a class photo in elementary school. All that was missing was a little black sign with interchangeable white letters that the person sitting front row centre would hold upright before the photographer froze the scene in time. Only thing is, trying to pin down their experience in a couple words is exactly what their writing project is fighting against.
It has been an intense few months since the Power of Women Group proposed preparing a series of stories about the experiences that brought them to the Downtown Eastside. After a writing exchange with Megaphone Magazine, the women wanted another chance to bring their voices to the fore – to tell their stories and the stories of their neighbourhood in their own words, on their own terms.
Over the month of June, the VMC will host 12 stories by 12 incredible women who live, love, survive, and thrive in Canada’s poorest off-reserve postal code. The stories that make up In Our Own Voices are the fruits of weeks of writing exercises, workshopping, drafts, revisions and corrections, facilitated by Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre project coordinator Harsha Walia.
These are stories of incredible hardship, resistance, struggle, courage, and resilience; of grappling with and sometimes overcoming fear, addictions, abuse, and illness; and of persistent state violence and racism, dealt liberally and frequently, and usually without a modicum of justice.
With the writing behind them, a feeling of trust and of belonging ruled as we sat around after the photographs had been taken, enjoying the warm, well lit common room in the Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre.
One by one, the women opened up about their experiences writing their stories for In Our Own Voices.
“Writing about my childhood as a survivor of residential school gave me the freedom to let it go after packing it around all these years,” said Stella, a longtime member of the Power of Women Group whose story will be featured on June 8. “It meant healing for myself, and a way to express myself to the public, to educate them,” said Pearly May, whose piece will appear on June 29.
Some women wrote with a specific purpose in mind. “I’m hoping my story will help other women who are being abused to get out of that relationship, and for moms that are still fighting for their kids that are in care, to know there’s help out there,” said B., whose story will be published June 13. Other women found the experience harrowing, like Debbie V., who said “It was hard on me to write my story, I get really upset and I cry.” Her story will be featured here on June 17.
Those are just a few of the voices that you’ll find on the Vancouver Media Co-op site this month. In the place of fragments, a passing nod at a rally or a quick hello on the street, readers can walk beside these brave, powerful women.
In Our Own Voices will run every Monday, Wednesday and Friday on the Vancouver Media Co-op and the Media Co-op websites from Monday June 6 to Friday July 1. The permanent link for the project can be accessed here.