Women’s conference found strength through stories

April 1, 2012
Amy Dove
Mayan speaker Mary Corba leads We Move Forward participants through a traditional ceremony.

The stories are very different, but the message is always the same.

The tales of personal and professional success, mirrored by honest stories of failure reflect the power of an idea. For Janeen Halliwell, a Masters in Leadership and Training (MALT) alumna and founder of We Move Forward, the successful inaugural conference on Isla Mujeres reinforced what people are capable of.

“I am an ordinary woman who in this case put together something that was quite extraordinary,” she says. “We are all capable of creating positive change, if we pay attention to the right things and surround ourselves with the right people.”

That was the point of We Move Forward, a three-day conference in March. Hosted on Isla Mujeres, the Island of Women, in Mexico in time for International Women’s Day, the event brought more than 80 women together to learn, laugh and reflect through the power of storytelling. They came from throughout North America and ranged in age from early 20s to 75 years old.

“Age didn’t matter, and that was really beautiful,” Halliwell says. “Everyone connected and there was just a real commonality there of being women.”

The speakers flowed together in the common theme of vision supported by action. They included women such as Judith Jenya who proved an idea can gain traction before you have all the supports as she recounted her experiences starting summer camps for children in war-torn countries and Monica Parker, an award-winning actress and writer, who shared her experience with body image and weight, using humour to convey universal truths.

Pamela Maddox told her story of trading in land for the uncertainty of the sea when she moved her family onto a sail boat and travelled around the world, always striving for the path less travelled. And journalist Lorna Tychostup brought her experience working in Baghdad to the forefront as she recounted the politics and passion of the people she met on all sides of the war.

In each story there was laughter, humanity and truth. “What it all said was it is ok to be successful and vulnerable and I love that,” says Christie Andrus, MALT alumna and conference facilitator.

Participants were also invited to take part in “circle” activities where the women were invited to share their own stories and encouraged to really listen to those around them. “They found their voices if they needed to do that, or quieted their voices if they needed to do that,” says Cathy McKenzie, MALT alumna and conference facilitator who lead the circle activities with husband and MALT alumnus Ed McKenzie. “The women really honored the power of stories. That was amazing to watch and be a part of.”

“People continued to surprise me at how trusting and open they are with sharing very important and personal stories,” Andrus says. “We are too busy to tell our stories, and yet when we do share them they are beautiful.”

Halliwell is already planning for We Move Forward 2013. The focus for the next conference is living with intention, she says. Sessions will again blend mind, body and soul through keynote speakers and movement sessions such as yoga. As it happened with the first conference, local women will be sponsored through registrations, allowing the host community to benefit from the collective wisdom as well.

The hope is the impact of the experience will reach far beyond those that attended the event. The excitement and stories are meant to be shared with family and friends. Reflecting on one’s values and priorities is so beneficial, Halliwell says, and can impact larger communities.

For Andrus, the complex impact is simple to define.

“It’s like the circles keep growing which is the whole point.”