Using Stories to Inspire Community Action

From Women and Girls Lead, Volume 1 collection, lesson plan 4 of 6

Grade Levels: 9-12, College (Note: This lesson includes discussion of how a family suffered during war.)

Estimated Time Needed: (One to two 50-minute class periods, plus student work outside of class to gather a story from a school or community source)

Purpose of the Lesson: In this lesson, students will explore how storytelling can be a powerful way to illustrate how problems affect people and to inspire collective action that can bring about positive change. The class will first analyze the potential impact of the experiences described by Rose Mapendo, a woman whose family suffered severe hardships during violent conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Students will then gather and share a true story from their own community that explains the human impact of a local issue.


Students will:

  • Explain the meaning of a quotation and apply it to a personal experience
  • Infer how a woman who speaks about her family’s wartime experiences can bring about positive change
  • Use media to gather a story that illustrates the human impact of an important issue in their own community
  • Provide written analysis for how that story could be used to raise awareness, further dialogue, and inspire collective action on that issue in your community


  • Equipment to show the class a film module
  • Film Module: Rose Mapendo Tells Her Story (Length: 9:38)
  • Student Handout A: The Power of Stories
  • A map of Africa, showing the location of the Democratic Republic of Congo
  • Teacher Guide for “The Power of Stories” handout
  • Student Handout B: Story Project Analysis

Writer: Cari Ladd

Cari Ladd, M.Ed., is an educational writer with a background in secondary education and media development. Previously, she served as PBS interactive's director of education, overseeing the development of curricular resources tied to PBS programs, the PBS TeacherSource website (now PBS Teachers), and online teacher professional development services. She has also taught in Maryland and Northern Virginia.


  1. Post the following quotation where everyone in the class can see it: “One person cannot push an elephant, but many people together can push an elephant.”

  2. Ask students to take a few minutes to reflect on the quote, write an explanation of what they think it means, and provide a description of how it relates to a personal life experience.

  3. Have students share what they have written with a partner. Then, invite a few pairs to share their responses with the class.

  4. Tell students that the quote is from Rose Mapendo, a woman whose family experienced severe hardships during war in their homeland of the Democratic Republic of Congo, or DR Congo. Show students where DR Congo is on a map. Explain that as a result of the conflict there, Rose’s husband was executed, she and nine of her 10 children were imprisoned in a death camp, and she was separated from another child for 13 years. Now that the family is reunited and living in the United States, Rose regularly speaks about what happened to her and her family in DR Congo. (Note: To give your students more background on the war in DR Congo, please see the lesson plan, Conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo: Causes and Impact.)

  5. Distribute the student handout and explain that the class is going to watch a film module that shows Rose Mapendo speaking about her experiences. Go over the handout with students and ask them to complete it using information from the module. Then, show “Rose Mapendo Tells Her Story” (length: 9:38).

  6. After watching the video, ask students how they felt when they heard Rose describe her family’s suffering in the prison camp. How did the visuals (e.g., view from a barred window, stone walls) shown while Rose told of the birth of her twins affect student reactions to her story? Using the Teacher Guide to facilitate further discussion, review student responses on their handouts and talk about why stories like Rose’s are important to both tell and hear.

    Explain that like Rose Mapendo, students can also use the power of storytelling to help others. Tell students that they are going to complete a project where they will select an issue, share the true story of someone affected by that issue, and then explain how that story could be used to bring about positive change.

    Depending on available resources, students could use text, photographs, audio recordings, slideshows, video, or other forms of media to tell the person’s story. Consider showing students a number of the following examples of digital storytelling for inspiration:

    Video: Stories for Change. This database of digital stories — many of which are downloadable — addresses issues like housing, violence, health care, and more. A Promise Made (length: 3:33) is a story about end-of-life treatment decisions. Center for Digital Storytelling is another database of community stories. “Unable” (length 2:12) addresses domestic violence. “IOMPretoria” (length: 4:03) tells the story of a migrant worker in Swaziland who struggles with HIV and AIDS in an area with limited medical services and other resources.

    Audio with photographs: VoiceThread. This example isn’t issue based, but shows how one woman described a photograph to share a story about her mother, and others online then commented on it: Ellie Tells a Story. For this project, the student could also ‘comment’ to add their Story Project Analysis.

    Audio: StoryCorps. This collection of stories is not always issue-based, but illustrates how audio can be used to tell a person’s story. This one tells of a man who was bullied in junior high school for being gay: Looking Back at the ‘Tremendous’ Hate of Bullies (length 2:24).

    For each example shared with the class, discuss what visuals and/or sounds were used. How did those elements influence the way that students reacted to the person’s story? What issue was addressed in each story? How could the story be used to raise awareness about that issue? To further dialogue? To inspire others to do something about this issue?

  7. Help students get started on their projects by first considering various school or community issues that they are concerned about. Instruct each student to trace his or her hand on a sheet of paper, brainstorm a list of concerns (e.g., bullying at school, helping refugees in the community, teen pregnancy, students who drop out of high school, homeless youth or families, etc.), and list one issue on each finger of the handprint. (If students have trouble coming up with ideas, consider having them complete this step with a partner or consult Web sites about volunteering, like Do or Students should circle the one issue they want to focus on for the project. They should then list in the palm of the handprint potential people who might be willing to explain how this issue has affected their lives, or possible community organizations that could connect students with someone.

  8. Give students time outside of class to gather the story for this assignment. Students should then complete the Story Project Analysis handout and turn it in with their finished story.

  1. Increase the impact of the community stories that students gathered for this lesson. Have students share their stories beyond the classroom by contacting reporters, partnering with community leaders connected to their chosen issue, or sharing stories online via social media. Alternatively, students could organize a community event where their stories are accompanied by discussion opportunities about the related issues as well as information on how people can help.

  2. Consider the strengths of women as leaders. In the video, one of the participants in a panel discussion suggested that women should be at the table of peace negotiations. The class also hears in the video that in DR Congo, women are not involved in politics and “do not have a say.” How do students think the inclusion of women’s voices might affect peace negotiations in DR Congo? How do female leaders affect change at your school and in your community? To study these questions more deeply, check out Community Classroom’s related “Women and Democracy” film module and lesson plan.

  3. Examine further the theme of forgiveness versus vengeance. Ask students to describe an experience when they had to choose between forgiving someone and seeking revenge. What happened? Which did they choose? What might have happened if they had chosen the alternative? In the video, Rose said, “When you don’t forgive others, you keep building a hell for yourself.” What does she mean? Do students agree or disagree? Where does justice fit in? Watch the Religion & Ethics Newsweekly report, “Rwandan Reconciliation” that describes how some Rwandans are trying to forgive and move forward after their country’s massive genocide. What impact did forgiveness have on those in the report? What if they had sought vengeance instead? Finally, have students explore the concepts of forgiveness or vengeance in other ongoing or historical conflicts, such as local gang violence, the Israeli-Palestinian struggle, or Cambodia under Pol Pot.

  4. Evaluate DR Congo’s potential for achieving peace and prosperity. Using the Global Classroom’s Six Factors of Economic Success as a framework, have students conduct research and then write essays to synthesize their findings and analysis.

  5. Explore the work of human rights organizations. Have student pairs research one organization and write a profile about it that explains who the organization serves, summarizes where and how it conducts its activities, and describes volunteer opportunities. Consider also inviting someone from a human rights organization to speak to your class about career opportunities in the field.

  6. Compare and contrast Rose Mapendo with women’s rights pioneer Sojourner Truth. Have students watch the end of the video again where Rose speaks to a group of women in DR Congo about how women are the key to change, and if women do not free themselves and look at what is possible, then they will suffer. Then, ask students to read a bio about Sojourner Truth and her famous speech “Ain’t I a Woman”. How is Rose similar to Sojourner Truth? How is she different? Have students organize their thinking in a Venn diagram.

Related Lesson:

Conflict in Democratic Republic of Congo: Causes and Impact This lesson helps students make personal connections with Rose Mapendo (featured in this lesson) and her family. Doing so will help put a human face on conflict in DR Congo — a far away and unimaginable conflict that is the deadliest since World War II. Students will then investigate various events in DR Congo’s history, determine the causes and impact of the war, and analyze the effects that war has had on women in particular.

Background Resources:

BBC: Q&A: DR Congo Conflict This resource includes information on the status of the conflict in DR Congo and the purpose of the United Nations mission there.

The CIA World Factbook: Democratic Republic of the Congo Find a map, geographic and political information, and key issues related to DR Congo.

Digital Storytelling Guide This how-to guide provides step-by-step instructions for several types of digital storytelling, using media tools readily accessible to schools.

Discussion Among Social Entrepreneurs: Storytelling and Social Change This article and related discussion on the Skoll Foundation’s Social Edge site examines how the use of compelling narratives and creative media helps people to understand and connect with social issues.

  • Film module:
    Rose Mapendo Tells Her Story
Download lesson materials