At the close of our Somo Sisters Oral Histories Project, our project administrator reflects on how the project was carried out and the positive impact it has had on our community.
Earlier this year, WODIN wrapped up our biggest project to date: the Somo Sisters Oral Histories Project. It was an opportunity to record the oral histories of the Black migrant women in our community, so their stories can be passed on to the next generations. These recordings were archived at the Liverpool Central Library; the Somo Sisters officially became part of Liverpool history.
At the close of the project, we were required to write a ‘closing report’ that details how the Somo Sisters Project was carried out and the positive impact it has had on the participants and on our community. Compiled by our Project Administrator, here is that report:
Having felt the need for Black culture and people’s journeys to be recorded for posterity, Women and Digital Inclusion (WODIN), enabled by The National Lottery Heritage Fund, launched the Somo Sisters project. ‘Somo’ means to read or learn in Swahili.
The aim of the project was to create a legacy heritage resource to be archived for future generations to listen to. Somo Sisters is a series of audio recordings and a written archive of the stories of eleven Black migrant women who settled in Liverpool, United Kingdom from different African and Caribbean Backgrounds, including women from Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Zimbabwe, Ghana, and Barbados.
The audio recordings explore the different traditions, cultures, customs, and the journeys of the ladies to the United Kingdom. Through these, the participants were able to pass down customs, skills, traditions, and knowledge that was passed down to them by their parents and grandparents.
As stated before, the project was funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, including my position. It was launched in September 2022.
My role as the project administrator
As a Black migrant woman with awareness and knowledge of Black culture and heritage, being a part of the Somo Sisters Project was such an exciting experience. My role as project admin was carried out in phases.
PHASE ONE included an outreach campaign where, in collaboration with WODIN volunteers, we distributed flyers, banners, and sent out email blasts with information about the project to local Black communities, local authorities in Liverpool, and constituted groups with potential participants for the project. We also reached out to local TV and radio stations.
Our promotional efforts led to the registration of at least 25 women. Because some of these were from the same cultures and backgrounds, we interviewed then with the project coordinator and were able to whittle the number down to eleven Black migrant women who were interested in sharing their cultures, traditions, and lived experiences. This phase also involved building rapport and confidence building with the project participants through phone calls, emails and WhatsApp conversations.
Some of the women had questions about what exactly the project required them to share as some had reservations on sharing personal information. This led to some of them dropping out. This phase was therefore a period of encouraging the women that the depth of what they would share was entirely up to them as the aim of the project was to impact future generations through stories about their cultures and experiences in the UK.
I also supported the ladies to sign the Memorandum of Understanding, a document explaining what they should expect from WODIN and what WODIN expects of them during the project. They also had to sign the oral histories Release or Consent form which was a permission from the ladies to WODIN and the UK Records Office at the Liverpool Central Library to catalogue and archive the stories as an oral history record.
PHASE TWO involved supporting our project workshops facilitators during the sessions. Our Wednesday sessional workshops included trainings on:
- Confidence building
- Impactful storytelling
- Media skills
- Creative writing
- Professional digital recording
- Use of Adobe Audition and Audiate for recording oral assets
- Public speaking and leadership
- Online safety
The women got more confident and practiced how to write and tell their stories in an organised way. This prepared them for their individual recording sessions. As a project assistant, I worked with the project coordinator to co-host sessions that were online and helped to organise sessions that were in person. I shared needed session material like PowerPoints and sessional minutes to the women. I also sent weekly reminders to ladies through emails, text messages, and phone calls to the women about our sessions on Wednesdays.
With the support of the volunteers, I ensured that all the equipment was set up for each session and that the women showed up and got feedback/reviews on each training session. We gave feedback to our facilitators and project coordinator regarding the workshops. By the end of this phase, the women were confident and were more ready to record their stories professionally.
PHASE THREE involved supporting the project coordinator to record the different women’s stories. A maximum of two recordings were made each day and the stories were recorded between January 2023 and March 2023 in person.
Being a part of the recording process was a learning experience for me as a project assistant. The different stories were so inspiring and insightful yet they each had a similarity somehow. The women shared why and how they migrated to the UK and why they settled in Liverpool among all the cities, the cultural shocks they had on settling into the UK and how they coped with this big adjustment. They also talked about what cultural practices they wanted their children to adopt from their motherlands and what cultural practices they detested.
I supported the project coordinator to set up the recording equipment and ensured the ladies turned up for their recording sessions on time. On April 28th, 2023, we were able to hand deliver the oral history recordings to the Liverpool Central Library, where the Oral Records are now archived.
PHASE FOUR of my role as a project admin involved supporting the project coordinator to plan the Somo Sisters Launch Event and the subsequent mini community and promotional events around sharing the record. This included speaking to and inviting potential speakers and local leaders, sourcing the venue, and finding service providers like caterers and decorators. Alongside some of the project participants, I engaged in a radio interview at BBC Radio Merseyside to create awareness about our launch event.
The event took place on May 19th, 2023 and was a resounding success in my humble opinion. We were graced with the presence of the Lord Mayor of Liverpool, the chairperson of the Liverpool Common Wealth Association, a councilor from the Greater Manchester Green Party, four representatives from the Support and Action for Women’s Network (SAWN), the chairperson of the Nigerian Liverpool Community Association, Kenyan community Association leaders and committee members from the Ugandan Community Association Liverpool. Plus, people from the local communities, friends and families of the participants.
PHASE FIVE of my role is still ongoing as of mid-July 2023. This involves collating all the activities, feedback, reviews, and report on project outcomes, challenges participants faced, lessons learnt and encouraging participants to continue sharing and promoting the Oral Histories at events and gatherings they attend long after the project ends.
The goals and objectives of the project were to:
- Explore, record, and preserve Black/African heritage in a European environment
- Celebrate the traditions, cultures, customs, skills, and knowledge of different Black communities
- Train the participants in various transferable skills related to producing the oral history record
- Connect our people and communities we live in to our history, cultures, and traditions
- Share our journeys to the UK, including what parts of our culture we would like to see our children, communities, and British society adopt and what parts of our cultures we are happy we left behind
Looking at how far the project has come, it is clear that the goals and objectives of the project have been exceedingly attained through the beautiful stories told by the ladies. So much so, they also produced and published a book sponsored by WODIN leadership, support team, and all of the volunteers.
The project has instilled such great hope in our communities and created a go-to resource for society to learn more about Black culture. The stories told will live on and younger generations will learn about the various cultures and traditions to inform their future. People from other continents will also learn and appreciate the diversity and beauty of African cultures.
The women who participated in the project have gained so much confidence in themselves which can be attributed to the training sessions from the facilitators. By being a part of the project, the ladies also made new connections and friendships which have been beneficial in their day to day lives.
Lessons learned over the course of the project
A major lesson learned as project admin is the importance of clear and concise communication, patience, and rapport building. Engaging with the project participants built their confidence and trust, and encouraged them to freely communicate in case of challenges and to freely voice concerns and opinions. This, in turn, allowed the project to run smoothly and effectively. During this project, I was also privileged to attend all the training offered, plus a strategic planning workshop and a fundraising and capacity building workshop, both of which have been essential to my career development.
I would like to thank Women and Digital Inclusion (WODIN) for giving me the opportunity to be a project admin on the Somo Sisters Project. I would also like to give a massive congratulations to all the ladies involved in this big achievement.
Being a part of this project was evidence that small organisations like WODIN are as influential to society as bigger organisations. Projects WODIN offers to Black migrant women such as digital skills trainings, energy awareness programs, supporting women into business, and ethnic food banks all contribute to the wellbeing and livelihoods of these women and their families. A massive round of applause to WODIN for the amazing job they are doing for the Black migrant families in Liverpool and Merseyside.