We invited The Shoe Project mentors and coaches to respond to the following question: Why have you taken on this work? This is Barb Howard’s answer.
The reason I took on the work of writing mentor in my first Shoe Project in 2017 is different from the reason I’ve taken on the work since then. When Katherine Govier asked me to help out the first time, I had not heard of The Shoe Project. I looked it up and liked the idea of meeting and working with newcomer women. I felt that I had sufficient experience in leading writing workshops to be of some use. At the time, I did not realize all the personal benefits that would accrue to me.
Every Shoe Project workshop has held many surprises for me—always including surprising stories, personalities, and emotional connections. But during that first workshop, I was in a constant state of surprise. I spent a lot of time studying world geography, wars and conflicts (past and current), and realized more than ever the importance of sharing personal stories. Most of the previous workshops I had led had been for fiction writing. The bare truth of the Shoe Stories was, and continues to be, both heart-wrenching and heart-warming.
One of the members of that first group, Dusanka Reljic, knit me a pair of slippers. She had waited more than 20 years to tell her story and I was lucky enough to play a role in her storytelling process. I keep those slippers in a special place in my closet. They symbolize all the gifts, tangible and intangible, that I have received from participants in The Shoe Project.
And so, I continue to take on the work, and receive the benefits, of The Shoe Project. But now in addition to meeting amazing women and having the privilege of helping them crystallize one of their many life stories, I receive an ongoing education, and sense of connectedness to my city and to the world. And, best of all, I have some new friends!