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Collecting Human-Interest Stories. Purpose. Sells your project and sells the importance of what CRS does Puts a human face to the numbers we report Explains what we do in concrete (tangible) language Captures information for future use. Audience. DONORS fellow CRS staff members

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Collecting Human-Interest Stories

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Presentation Transcript
  • Sells your project and sells the importance of what CRS does
  • Puts a human face to the numbers we report
  • Explains what we do in concrete (tangible) language
  • Captures information for future use
  • fellow CRS staff members
  • U.S. Catholics: parishes, colleges – the U.S. Operations constituents
  • Major Gift Officers
  • partners and others who can learn from our experiences
before you start collecting
Before you start collecting
  • Choose a coordinator/point person from CRS staff
  • Equip the coordinator: camera, voice recorder, travel budget, translator
  • Build in time to
    • plan the story gathering
    • collect, process, and edit stories (500-750 words or 2-3 pages)
    • revise stories as necessary
Project documents: proposal, reports, evaluations

CRS staff and, if necessary, former project staff: project background and history, how beneficiaries were chosen, situation the project hopes to address, former attempts (if any) to solve the problem

local actors: CRS partners, community leaders, government service providers, village workers, authorities (as examples of where to start)

beneficiaries: direct and indirect, individuals and groups

Where do I get information?Keep in mind that each of these sources may place importance on different aspects of the project. This is fine.
basic elements of a story

a real person who is participating or has participated in a CRS project


project title, partner CRS is working with to carry out


When and for how long was the participant involved with this project?

When did you collect the story?


country, region/state/ district, town


Why was CRS running this program at this time and in this place?

Why and how did the participant get involved with the program?


How did the participant’s life change/improve? Please give examples, not just income comparisons.

How is CRS involved with the program? Are we funding it? Are we sharing our technical expertise? Are we providing lab equipment?

Basic elements of a story
an example of some not all of the basic elements
Opening paragraph:

“When Maimouna’s mother Dohali brought her to the recuperative feeding center run by Caritas in Kolda, Senegal in September 2005, they had traveled approximately 100 km from the Guinea-Bissauan border. The 8-month-old had stopped breastfeeding, yet she continued to vomit what little there was in her stomach. She had been suffering from pneumonia, malaria and parasites for several weeks. But even though she was exhausted, emaciated and sick, it appeared that she wasn’t ready to give up.”

who: 8-month-old Maimouna and her mother

what: child malnutrition

when: September 2005

where: a recuperative feeding center in Senegal

why: Maimouna’s severe illness

how: traveling over 100 km to reach the center

An example of some (not all) of the basic elements
talking to beneficiaries
Talking to beneficiaries
  • name, age, occupation
  • family members (names, household positions and ages)
  • situation before CRS program
  • how they found out about/decided to participate in CRS program
  • what makes this program more attractive than their other options
  • how is life different (and hopefully better) now
interview tips
Interview Tips
  • Be clear about the purpose of the interview — not necessarily to obtain more funding, but to raise awareness and support of CRS activities.
  • Obtain consent of the individual or household.
  • Create a supportive environment: try to avoid disturbances like noise, other people listening or an overly formal surrounding.
  • Minimize the “social distance” by wearing appropriate clothing, respecting gender relations, making the interviewee feel at ease, not showing disapproval of the information received, and so forth.
  • Treat the interview as a conversation. The interview guide should be used as an overall framework, allowing for follow-up questions.
  • Recognize potentially interesting quotations. Since the final product is a story describing the individual’s experiences in his or her own words, quotations are an important aspect.
  • Observe the individual’s physical appearance and the setting.
  • Use a tape recorder if the interviewee will let you; if not, take notes.
  • Accurate and precise translation is essential, and worth an investment in time and money.
  • Some interviewees might feel uncomfortable in criticizing the project. Try to put the interviewee at ease, and pay special attention to whether potential lessons learned have been identified.
valuable strong story elements
Valuable, strong story elements
  • Everyday language, including explanation of unfamiliar terms and context for money amounts
  • CRS contact: for HQ to follow up
  • Quotations
  • Photographs – give photographer credit and write captions
  • How will the project be made sustainable?
valuable strong story elements continued with examples
Valuable, strong story elements continued (with examples)
  • Number of people project will (eventually) benefit
    • “Based on numbers to date, by the end of the five-year project, CRS will have seen more than 90,000 people at these facilities. From these former clients’ and the women volunteers’ sharing their experiences and health messages ‘back home,’ many others are also expected to benefit.”
  • Unexpected benefits of the program/lessons learned
    • “CRS learned a new lesson: that parents needed to know more about how to judge whether their malnourished children should be taken to a feeding center or directly to the clinic. As it turned out, a local women’s organization was so impressed with CRS’ work that it proposed the idea of asking people who had used these facilities to volunteer to spread this and other health information back in their home communities.”
things to avoid
Things to avoid
  • Technical, clinical language – please use a natural “tone of voice,” as if you were telling a story to someone you know
    • please spell out
    • here’s what happens when acronyms go wrong: “The LACRO RD visited the conflict area in Colombia with Andean ZR, CRS/EC-CO-VZ CR, and CRS/CO CM.”
  • Too much information on project’s technical details – such information belongs in the Project Tracking System
photo examples
Photo Examples

These are two photos taken to accompany a story which focuses on a man named Kecouta and his son. The first photo is good: it concentrates on the story’s subjects and the lighting is dramatic – it comes from the window of Kecouta’s house. The second photo is too cluttered, and it doesn’t clarify or strengthen Kecouta’s story, which was specifically related to his son.

once you re back at the office
Once you’re back at the office
  • Construct a story from the information you’ve collected.
  • Share story with Deborah Stein ( Once we have communicated, it may be necessary to fill in missing elements.
  • Share problems you ran into/suggestions for improvement in methods with coworkers and Deborah Stein.
story examples 1 of 3 maimouna
Story examples (1 of 3: Maimouna)

It was a long journey for such a small child.

When Maimouna’s mother Dohali brought her to the recuperative feeding center run by Catholic Relief Services’ partner, Caritas, in Kolda, southern Senegal in September 2005, they had traveled for four days from Diameave, near the Guinea-Bissauan border. The 8-month-old refused to eat and had stopped breast-feeding, yet she continued to vomit what little there was in her stomach. She had been suffering from pneumonia, malaria and parasites for several weeks. But even though she was exhausted, emaciated and sick, she wasn’t ready to give up.

When Maimouna arrived at the feeding center, Sisters Marie Rose and Valerie measured her. Maimouna only weighed 3.5 kg (7.5 lbs), well below the weight of many newborns in the United States and Europe. Even more revealing was her weight to height ratio. A healthy person’s ratio is 100 percent, and anything below 80 percent is considered dangerous. Maimouna’s ratio was well below 80 percent.

The sisters cared for Maimouna as they had cared for other severely malnourished children for over 25 years, taking in more than 30–35 children per day. Preparing a variety of meals using U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) food commodities, including wheat-soya blend, lentils, corn and vegetable oil, the sisters provided five meals to Maimouna throughout the day, and treated her infections with necessary drugs. Three weeks after being admitted to the center in October 2005, Maimouna was a new person. Although she was still very sick and had struggled to regain her strength, she had gained weight, weighing approximately 4.4 kg (9.68 lbs). She wasn’t quite ready to go home to her community, but she was making progress.

As her mother told CRS, “On the day that I arrived here, I thought that Maimouna was going to die. I cried the entire day. Now, Maimouna is better. She no longer vomits all of the time, she has started eating, she has started breast-feeding, and she has begun gaining weight. She has stopped crying.” Through years of experience in recuperative feeding centers, CRS and Caritas have also learned new lessons from experiences such as Maimouna’s: while providing food is necessary to save Maimouna’s life, it isn’t sufficient to ensure that she won’t fall ill again. So Caritas works with mothers such as Dohali to teach them how to prepare proper foods, to identify the signs of illness, and to learn more about child-care practices. Dohali herself has recognized this as an important part of the CRS program: “I have now learned how to prepare the proper foods for my daughter so that she doesn’t get sick, including milk, porridge and other foods.”

The CRS and Caritas team in Kolda are involved in a project funded by the USAID/Office of Food for Peace Title II program. Activities include agriculture and food relief for extremely vulnerable populations located in communities and centers that assist moderately to severely malnourished people, especially children. In Senegal, CRS is providing food rations to two recuperative feeding centers that serve populations in the Casamance region, which was affected by years of conflict. Based on client numbers to date, by the end of the five-year program, it is estimated that more than 5,000 people will have been seen at these CRS-supported facilitates. As a result of former clients’ sharing their experiences and health messages in their home communities, many others are also expected to benefit.

In these and many other ways, CRS’ work seeks to improve the health and lives of many thousands of men, women and children, like Maimouna, in communities all over Africa.

story examples 2 of 3 ba sinjal
Story examples (2 of 3: Ba Sinjal)

His pride made it hard for him to beg.

As Ba Sinjal and Mariama walked through the street that day on their way to the food distribution center in the town of Kaur, the Gambia, they drew the same attention as always. He was a blind man and his daughter was guiding him, both holding one end of his walking stick. On this day, they were taking the first steps that would make it possible for Ba to stop begging for food.

Two weeks earlier, Ba’s friend, the local tailor, had explained to him that there was a community-based program funded by Catholic Relief Services and implemented through its local partner, Gambian Association for Food and Nutrition Assistance, that provided food assistance to disabled people in the community.

Ba had been blind for 15 years, his hands still strong from the years of working in the field, the rest of his body thin and emaciated from malnutrition. His face was proud, only his eyes cloudy with cataracts revealing that he was blind.

Although he had had problems with his eyesight since birth, Ba had been able to work and provide for a family of 10. After losing his eyesight 10 years ago, he was forced to beg in the local market, as his family did not have the means to support him. In the Gambia, there are few social services or governmental programs to support the aged, handicapped or mentally ill. In these cases, only the family can provide for such individuals. In a country where more than 60 percent of the population lives below the poverty line, this is a substantial burden on the household.

At the CRS food distribution center, the staff still remember the day that Ba registered for the program four years ago. They had known him from the market where he begged for food and had seen him change.

A few months after he was admitted to the program, Ba started to become more independent. People noticed that Ba was no longer begging when receiving CRS food. He was no longer in the market, and people started asking, “Where is he?” With CRS food, Ba was able to spend more time with his family. At the start, he didn’t recognize the staff who were managing the program. As time went on, when he heard their voices in the street, he would call them by name and ask them about the project.

CRS and its partners in Kaur, the Gambia are involved in a project funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development. Project activities include agriculture, food relief, and training in a variety of communities and health centers throughout the country. Community management committees provide monthly dry food rations of wheat-soya blend, corn, lentils and vegetable oil to the most vulnerable in the community. This includes those who are chronically ill or physically and mentally handicapped, and moderately to severely malnourished children. CRS is providing food commodities to approximately 10 community management committees throughout the Gambia. In the case of Kaur, the center provides a monthly food ration to over 600 project participants over a six-month period. Based upon client numbers to date, by the end of the five-year program, it is estimated that more than 10,000 people will have received food commodities. As most beneficiaries also share the food with their family, many others are also expected to benefit.

In these and many other ways, CRS’ work seeks to meet the needs of the most vulnerable, like Ba Sinjal, in communities all over Africa.

story examples 3 of 3 lamin
Story examples (3 of 3: Lamin)

Lift up your head.

Santa Yallah is an association that provides care and counseling services to people living with HIV in Banjul, the Gambia. In a country where social stigma surrounding HIV prevents HIV-positive people from being fully accepted by society, Santa Yallah serves as a safe haven for its members. The association’s name is a clear statement: Santa Yallah means “Thank you, God” in the local language of Wolof, thereby transmitting a message of strength and courage to the community outside its walls. As Lamin Ceesay, president of Santa Yallah, explains, “Although we are HIV-positive, it doesn’t mean that our lives are over.”

In 1998, after many years of working and traveling abroad, Lamin started feeling sick. After visiting a local doctor for testing, Lamin learned that he was HIV-positive. When he learned of his HIV status, he said, “I was so sad. I wasn’t married, I didn’t have a child, and people were saying that HIV/AIDS kills.” Lamin was sure that the illness called AIDS would kill him and take his dreams of a family away. So he hung his head.

But Lamin’s doctor at the local clinic in Banjul, the Gambia, would not let him give up. “Lift up your head. You should not be ashamed. There are others who live with the disease and have been living with it for a long time.” He explained to Lamin that there was a group called Santa Yallah that supported other Gambians with HIV. Lamin joined the group in 1999, when there were only 10 members. Now, the group provides support to over 500 Gambians, Senegalese, Sierra Leoneans and Nigerians living with HIV.

Since those early years, Lamin has been instrumental in supporting the growth of Santa Yallah, by speaking out about his HIV status, raising awareness in the local community about HIV and AIDS, serving as the association’s president, and campaigning for access to antiretroviral medications. The association now provides a variety of services for HIV-positive people and their families, including care and counseling, sensitization and awareness, advocacy, nutritional supplements, home-based care services, and skills training. As the president of the association, Lamin is a positive and courageous force in the community, setting an example for others living with HIV.

While Santa Yallah provides invaluable psychosocial services to its members, an important part of the program is its nutritional supplementation. Proper diet and nutrition are crucial for people with HIV, as malnutrition and HIV work in tandem. This means that the caloric and nutrient needs of people living with HIV increase as the disease advances. In many cases, people living with HIV are unable to work, reducing the income earned by the family. Therefore, their families not only have higher nutritional needs, but reduced incomes.

CRS, through the USAID/Office of Food for Peace-funded Development Activity program, provides Santa Yallah with a variety of commodities, including wheat-soya blend, vegetable oil, lentils and corn, to assist Santa Yallah’s HIV-positive members in meeting some of their special nutritional needs. As Lamin explained, “When we receive the food, we share it with our families. Since our families are so big, it only lasts a few days. But the food commodities are good and are appropriate for the diets that our doctors recommend.” The food commodities not only help Lamin to meet his nutritional needs, but also allow him to provide income to his family. CRS is providing a food ration to over 40 recipients per month and institutional support to Santa Yallah. Based upon client numbers to date, by the end of the five-year program, many others are also expected to benefit. Other Development Activity program responses include agriculture and food relief in a variety of communities and health centers throughout the country.

In these and many other ways, CRS’ work seeks to meet the needs of people living with HIV and AIDS and the extremely vulnerable, like Lamin Ceesay, in communities all over Africa.