Connecting The Community Through Storytelling

VICTORIA, BC-Everybody has a story. The Existence Project uses storytelling to build a community of empathy, understanding and belonging for everyone.

“My story is one of hardcore generational abuse and generational alcoholism and systemic abuse,” said Kym Hines, an Existence Project storyteller. “The stigma is so great for us, but I did survive. It’s amazing where I am now and how I can connect with the community and bring people together by telling my story.”

Marko Curuvija, founder of The Existence Project, and his team bring storytelling workshops to downtown service providers, schools and organizations in Victoria to help people build connection and understanding between marginalized communities and the public.

“The dialogue we have challenges common misconceptions of homelessness, addiction and mental illness,” Curuvija said. “We support storytellers who have a desire to share their experiences in a wider forum with training and community. The storytellers have lived through it and their experiences can help others understand why homelessness happens to people.”

The Existence Project is one of the first recipients of the Province’s new Homelessness Community Action Grants. Launched in June 2019, the B.C. government has provided $6 million, distributed through the Social Planning and Research Council of BC (SPARC BC), to help community-based organizations address homelessness locally. Organizations can apply for up to $50,000. The Existence Project received $30,000.

“The Existence Project represents a necessary shift to a more people-first approach to breaking the cycle of poverty,” said Shane Simpson, Minister of Social Development and Poverty Reduction. “By providing support to local groups and organizations through our Homelessness Community Action Grants, we are building awareness and seeing diverse ways of addressing various root causes of homelessness.”

The Existence Project has piloted workshops in middle schools and high schools for grades 7 to 12. It brings students and storytellers who experienced adversity in their youth together, so students and educators have an opportunity to connect with an individual’s personal experience, instead of just citing facts and figures.

“The goal of this project is to change the way people relate in this city,” Curuvija explained. “From a safe space, where people can express their vulnerability, we look at hard topics, things we relate to with shame and judgment, and see how that can transform individually and societally. Storytelling is a bridge between ‘us’ and ‘them.’

“Adolescence is a critical time to reach at-risk youth who may be experiencing social isolation. Schools can be a place to disrupt this cycle of addiction and mental illness from the beginning and can result in one less person coming in and out of street life.”

The Homelessness Community Action Grants are part of TogetherBC, British Columbia’s Poverty Reduction Strategy. To date, 11 community-based projects have received funding with the goal of increasing awareness and understanding of homelessness in youth, seniors and Indigenous women and youth, and understanding addictions and recovery.