A Discussion Group of the National Storytelling Network

Story Circles
Children at the Well

Storytelling Promotes Peace

Originally published in The Times Union, Albany, NY, March 22, 2009.

By Azra Haqqie

Children at the Well will bring together boys and girls from five faiths for a storytelling performance on Sunday, March 29 at St. Francis de Sales Church.

The program aims to deepen children's understanding of their own traditions, get to know other faiths and to promote peace among all people. This year's participants are Christian, Hindu, Jewish and Muslim.

"The story is what helps communication," said Gert Johnson, who founded Children at the Well, a project of the Interfaith Story Circle of the Tri-City Area, in 2005. "The story is a universal language. Stories cross all boundaries, but they speak the language of the heart."

The youth go beyond storytelling when it comes to interfaith activities. The focus is on collaboration and they are involved in radio and TV and community activities. They have met with overseas delegations at the International Center in Albany, putting their talent toward peacemaking and understanding, said Johnson, a Schenectady resident who in 2005 won the Brimstone Award for Applied Storytelling from the National Storytelling Network.

Adah Hetko, a senior at Shaker High School, is one of about seven students who have been with the group since its inception. She was 11 when she went to an interfaith women's dinner with her mother and sat next to Gert Johnson.

"I ended up telling a story on the spur of the moment, a fable I had heard in Hebrew school about a king and an adviser," Adah recalled.

Johnson asked her if she was interested in a youth storytelling group, she said she was and Johnson became her mentor.

Now 17, Adah will be heading off to Oberlin College in Ohio in the fall. "I'm not sure what I will major in, but I want to keep storytelling," she said.

Adah has become friends with Sarah Mohamad Ali, one of the Muslim members of Children at the Well. The 15-year-old sophomore at Doane Stuart School in Albany tells Mullah Nasrudin stories, which are popular in Middle East and Asia, much as Mother Goose rhymes and folktales are familiar to American children. The Nasrudin stories have morals, she said.

"Even though I have known Sarah for three years, I am always learning something new about her background," said Adah, adding "And I just love her stories."

"I love Adah's stories too," said Sarah who plans to stay with Children of the Well through high school and perhaps pursue other interfaith activities in college.

"We try to find young people from a new religion every year," Johnson said. "We would love to have a Buddhist, Baha'i and Native American. Each year we grow a little and are a little better."