Kiran Sirah is the executive director of the International Storytelling Center in Jonesborough, Tennessee. He graduated from the Rotary Peace Center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2013 with a Master of Arts in Folklore. The following is a excerpt from his speech 22 January at the International Assembly, a training event for incoming leaders in San Diego, California, USA.
There is a saying: The world is like a book, and those who do not travel will only ever have read the first page. For me storytelling is a way of traveling the world. Why? Because it enables us to be inspired, to follow our dreams, and to realize that our stories belong to a world full of stories just waiting to unfold.
Human beings tell stories. It’s part of our DNA. Stories have the power to touch hearts, excite minds, make us laugh, and bring us to tears. Stories enrich us to help us build communities. They let us experience new worlds and give us the power to transcend borders, time, and space.
But our world is imbalanced and troubled. And there has never been a time more important than right now to tell our stories. As all of us in this room today work to empower other people to seek freedom, I believe we must start by freeing our minds, because out of conflict, we may just hear new stories. . . .
While studying as a Rotary Peace Fellow, I had an experience where I had to leave the United States and return. When I returned I went through airport customs. Now, as a single brown man, I am not unfamiliar with special questioning from airport police officials! However, on this occasion, the airport customs officer looked up at me and asked me, “What are your plans and why are you here?” I told him I was a Rotary Peace Fellow and how it’s the program that is supported by Rotary and has become the highest educational program of its kind. He looked right at me, handed me back my passport, looked me right in the eye, and then smiled and thanked me for helping to make our world a better place. He said, “We need people like you in our world.”
As a Rotary Peace Fellow, I can say with my hand on my heart: Rotarians, we need people like you in our world! Because you are the story behind this story. You are the reason Rotary Peace Fellows can make differences in the world, and you are the ones that are empowering the peace fellows to negotiate the complex peace and conflict resolution programs, and build the story and legacy of the Rotary family.
I believe that Rotary’s story is one of the greatest stories that needs to be told. After all, to achieve peace in our world; we all need to connect on this human level. So let’s continue to tell our story.