Sharing stories and changing lives

Tue, Jun 4th 2013, 10:39 AM

Stories are powerful healers. Through stories of what has been endured and overcome, people can reach out beyond their suffering and speak to one another -- their stories can help each other heal and become whole, when they realize they are not alone.

 Tina Klonaris-Robinson, the founder of The Meah Foundation, did not always understand this, but in her late 20s, events would turn her life inside out and take her on a journey to Rwanda that would change everything.

 Klonaris-Robinson lost her daughter, Meah, in childbirth. But she knew if she was going to survive and be the mother her living son deserved, the wife and friend her husband needed and the person she wanted to be in life, she had to do something. She decided to become active in her journey of healing. She knew she needed to bring gratitude, love, kindness and compassion to herself and others. And she needed to forgive. She believes this led her to Immaculee Ilibagiza who lost almost all of her family members during the 1994 genocide in Rwanda (over one million people died in a period of three months), whose story she had heard when she was pregnant with Meah, and to Rwanda. Ilibagiza survived by hiding in a tiny bathroom with seven other women. After Meah's death, Robinson traveled to Orlando for Ilibagiza's "I Can Do It" conference for her workshop on forgiveness.

 Klonaris-Robinson was amazed by Ilibagiza's ability to find compassion for the people who killed her family in the midst of her pain. Hearing Ilibagiza's story changed Klonaris-Robinson and gave her the strength and motivation to move forward. She traveled to Rwanda with Ilibagiza in June of 2007 and then again in June of 2008 and 2011 where she met other survivors of the genocide. She cried with them. She laughed with them. She listened to their stories -- and they listened to hers. When they could not understand each other they held hands and hugged. With each story shared, Klonaris-Robinson said she was taught how to forgive. With every new story she said she felt her heart open and the energy of anger and powerlessness shift and change to love, forgiveness and a sense of empowerment. She said she began to understand that it is not what happens to you that defines a person, but the heart you bring to tragedy, to loss, that has the power to transform grief and anger to love and compassion. Klonaris-Robinson said hope grows from an open heart, and that new possibilities are illuminated in the light of that hope.

 That light led her to begin a foundation in Meah's name. The Meah Foundation is Klonaris-Robinson's way of passing on what she learned and what Meah came to teach her -- that stories are powerful healers.

"The Meah Foundation is all about the power of stories -- the stories to heal and transform lives," said Robinson. "When I traveled to Rwanda, and I listened to stories of people who had experienced hardship, I started to see how those stories were impacting me. Some stories gave me strength. Some stories helped me to find my healing. It was just really powerful for me to see the way that stories moved in me and I wanted to give that to others," she said.

Klonaris-Robinson created The Story Bracelet Project. The Meah Story Bracelet is a physical symbol of the stories that people have lived that can change the world. The stories are about surviving, overcoming, bringing awareness, sharing, experiencing and inspiring others. Every bracelet carries the handprint and name of a person whose story is inspiring and they think will inspire others in the struggle for change.

There are eight themes for Meah Story Bracelets -- Connection Bracelets, Cause and Awareness Bracelets, Inspiration Bracelets, Vision/Dream Bracelets, Family & Friends Connection Bracelets, Environment and Wildlife Bracelets, Animal Rights Bracelets and Celebrities Bracelets.

 By wearing a Meah Story Bracelet, people can be inspired daily, every time they look at their wrist they see a story of another human being whose life experience has inspired or moved them in some way.

 Klonaris-Robinson says wearing a Meah Story Bracelet says you are standing with the person who has shared their story, being a witness to it and also sharing it with others. She said when you wear a bracelet you stand with that person's dream.

"Wearing the bracelet says we're sharing the vision, the hope, the possibility," she said.

 The Meah Foundation receives stories from all parts of the globe. Their story is written down, sent to The Meah Foundation and shared with the world, symbolized by a bracelet with the person's handprint on it. A person purchasing a bracelet finds a name on the back of the bracelet, logs on to and is able to read that person's story. A connection is made and Klonaris-Robinson said the world is suddenly a smaller place with greater possibilities for surviving and thriving in it.

 Meah Story Bracelets are sold at $10.

 A recent Music Festival organized by The Meah Foundation to benefit their featured projects for the evening, The Bahamas Humane Society and The Bahamas Down Syndrome Association was postponed at the ninth hour to an as yet undetermined later date due to the inclement weather in the country over the past two weeks. But the postponement of the festival did not come before Rachel Johnson from Touch A Life Foundation (founded in 1999 by Pam and Randy Cope which inspires others to advocate on behalf of trafficked and vulnerable children around the world. They provide holistic long-term child care in Ghana, Vietnam and Cambodia, and is one of The Meah Foundation's partners that they raise funds for through the Story Bracelet Project) came to The Bahamas to speak at the event.

 Johnson, the project director for Touch A Life came to The Bahamas to share stories of the children that they work with in Ghana, and to help Bahamians to understand better what is happening in that country and how people from both countries can connect to get a sense of each other.

"It's all about stories ... connecting one another," said Johnson. "Our story is about these children who have been sold into slavery by their parents for as little as $20 and are now rescued and living in our care facility in Ghana, West Africa, the only long term rehabilitative care center for trafficked children in the whole country."

According to Johnson, the only alternative is short-term care, which she says has low success rates as typically the children end up getting trafficked again.

Johnson who said they were excited about to have a partnership with The Meah Foundation said Touch A Life was birthed out of similar fashion -- a story about loss and grief and finding recovery through service.

 She encouraged Bahamians to purchase The Meah Foundation's slap bracelets and learn about the children's stories and share them with people and to visit the websites for both organizations -- and the

 Johnson spoke at Van Breugel's on Saturday, June 1 and shared information on the work she does with Touch A Life Foundation and some of the experiences and stories of her travels to Ghana, West Africa.

The Meah Story Bracelets Connection Bracelets

 These are specifically story bracelets that connect children with children all over the world. The stories are from children only and share information such as where the child is from, what their country is like, what their everyday experiences are, what their favorite foods may be, or their hobbies. Do they have family ... how many siblings? If they go to school, what subjects do they take? We want children to become more familiar with the life experiences of other children around the world, and we want them to learn how other children live and experience every day life. The funds raised go towards educating and building schools in countries where children have no access to education.

 Cause and Awareness Bracelets

 Stories for the cause and awareness bracelets will come from all over the globe and they may be associated with such causes or awareness issues as genocide, HIV and AIDS, school bullying, sexual orientation and discrimination, water crisis, hunger crisis, poverty, cancer, etc. Funds raised go towards the foundations Meah works with that are associated with the person sharing the story or in some cases the foundation the author of the story has chosen to give to.

 Inspiration Bracelets

 These bracelets may also be cause and awareness bracelets. These stories are inspirational and are often about overcoming obstacles or about the good people do to make a difference in this world. These stories uplift and cause one to feel joy.

Vision/Dream Bracelets

 These are the powerful stories of the people who are making a difference in this world. They are the stories of our visionaries, our change makers and the very people who give their time selflessly to assist people in need. These are also the stories of those who protect and help save animals, wildlife and/or our environment. The foundation value these people and we believe that hearing the stories of who they are and why they do what they do is important.

Family & Friends Connection Bracelets

 Connecting people to those they love. These will be available in the spring of 2013. Would you like to wear the handprint of someone you love? The print of your children, your partner or your grandparents, perhaps your friends. These bracelets will soon be available.

 Environment and Wildlife Bracelets

 These stories are about the environment or animals that are in danger. The money goes towards helping environment and animals in danger. Stories may be about orphaned elephants or rhinos, gorillas or chimpanzees. They may come from our oceans, forests, deserts, mountains or lakes. The foundation believe that that there is no better time to bring about awareness and connect people, especially our children to the stories of nature.

Animal Rights Bracelets

 These are the stories of abused animals sharing what they experience and have had to endure. Just as important are the stories that inspire and uplift. All over the world, animals experience hardship but they cannot speak for themselves, at least not in our language. These bracelets share the stories of hurt and abuse and of kindness and overcoming.

Celebrity Bracelets

 Celebrities giving their hand print for a cause. Celebrities in all areas have the power to create change. Here is a fun way that they can do this. They share a part of their story and what charity it is they want to help and why. The funds raised from their story bracelets assist the charity, foundation or project they have chosen to support.

Click here to read more at The Nassau Guardian

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