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Bilal Hafda: Sydney Story Factory: Westfield Local Heroes 2018

Bilal gives young people a safe place in which to find their voice

The $10 000 Westfield Local Heroes grant has enabled Story Factory to deliver a term-long creative writing program for students at Telopea Public School. 19 Students from Years 4, 5 and 6 worked together to write a collaborative story. Supported by 5 expert Story Factory volunteer writing tutors, each student was responsible for writing one hour of the story. At the end of term, a graduation ceremony was held to celebrate and students were presented with handsomely published copies of their original works to keep as a memento of achievements, with a reading of the full story giving students the opportunity to share their work out loud. The marginalised young people at Telopea Public School were able to access and explore their creativity, develop the confidence to share their ideas, and learn how working together helps everyone.

Community worker Bilal Hafda doesn’t believe there is a need to give marginalised young people a voice. That’s because they already have their own amazing voices, he says. They simply need a platform to use them.

As chief storyteller at the downtown Paramatta branch of the Sydney Story Factory, Bilal is providing that opportunity to children aged seven to seventeen, many of whom are from culturally diverse and lower socioeconomic backgrounds and struggling academically and socially.

It is impossible not to be moved by the sheer joy and energy he radiates as he and his team give their young charges a safe place in which to open up and tell their stories, either in writing, video or theatre.

Bilal, who is employed by the Story Factory, runs workshops at local schools, where he and volunteers work with a class of students for six to eight weeks, sometimes longer. They also work with young offenders and community organisations.

“Giving young people the ability to tell a story, any story, helps them express themselves. But it also helps them take charge of stories that are told about them. And that’s incredibly important for young people growing up anywhere, but especially in Western Sydney.”

He says his brightest moments are when a child switches from someone who doubts their ability to tell a story to someone who sees their ability.

In his own time, Bilal helps to run one of the largest performance poetry events in Australia – Bankstown Poetry Slam, and he has facilitated performances by young slam members at the Sydney Writers’ Festival.

Bilal feels extremely humbled to be voted a Westfield Local Hero. “I keep wondering if I am deserving of the honour. I am one person who has been placed in the spotlight, but I have a whole organisation of fantastic people who help me do the work that I do.”

For further information on the Westfield Local Heroes program, click here.

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