SPRINGFIELD — Bad news travels fast, but Emra Smith believes that hope can keep pace with it.
Smith is the founder of the International School of Story, a 501(c)3 organization that combats hopelessness among women through the sharing of true inspirational tales.
“The purpose of the International Story is to bring hope and help communities to thrive,” Smith said at the Effingham County Chamber of Commerce during the March 24 kickoff of Hope Walk 2021. “We do our work by gathering stories, stepping into stories, bringing healing in them and helping others find purpose in their story.”
The International School of Story was born in 2015 shortly after Smith read about the plight of refugees who were fleeing Syria. Babies fell out of overloaded dinghies and drowned, and countless women were raped during the exodus that resulted from a violent crackdown of public demonstrations against the Syrian government.
Smith grieved about the deplorable conditions in Syria and cried out to God, “How can I help?”
“I recalled a time that I told God that I do not want to work with the brokenhearted and right there, that night my heart was changed.” Smith said. “I was engulfed in this hurt and filled with tenderness not just for the refugees, but for those that suffered for a myriad of reasons, in my city, my country, my homeland — all over the globe. Agonizing, I asked myself the question, what can one woman do for a world in pain?”
Smith has lived in the Savannah area for a decade but recently settled in Rincon to live and lead the International School of Story.
She said, “Our vision is to have a property and a building that will be our own, but I think our next step will be where we can have our internal ecosystem where we will actually do the work that we do — and that is to share inspiring stories with skills to cope, alleviating stress, anxiety and depression.”
Smith, a certified life coach, speaker and author, was joined on the first leg of the sixth Hope Walk by Savannah’s Melanie Mason and a handful of others. They ambled about seven miles to the United Way of the Coastal Empire-Effingham office to participate in “RECHARGE,” a virtual event Smith led.
The annual walk usually lasts 21 days but this year’s version was broken into three seven-day segments due to COVID-19 concerns. Smith and a team of community members, mostly female, typically cover 4-10 miles a day before stopping at a nonprofit to work on a service project.
Mason operates RiseUp2BuildUp LLC, which organized a Sunday dropoff of toiletries, canned goods, tissue, towels and more for homeless people staying in a Savannah hotel.
“Basically, what I do is help people who are going through things that I have gone through in my past,” Mason said. “That includes single parenting, divorce and homelessness. I’ve turned that into a ministry.”
RiseUp2BuildUp’s mission statement is: Reaching one person, one family, one day at a time.”
Mason said, “If I can help at least help one person where they can put at least a little bit of money to the side by not having to buy those items, they might be able to use that money for an application fee (for housing) or maybe a utility bill so that maybe they can move out of the hotel and get their own place. That is the ultimate goal.”
The International School of Story aims to spark positive actions like Mason’s so that women can extricate themselves from despair.
“Our week is about really looking at and bringing hope for dreams that may have been put on the shelf or forgotten during (the COVID-19 pandemic),” Smith said. “Our lives had to change radically.”
Even before the pandemic, most women lacked confidence in their ability to succeed in life, Smith said. The International School of Story website says that 25 percent of women suffer anxiety and 12.5 percent are clinically depressed.
“Our whole focus is really to bring hope into that space by recharging,” Smith said.
The International School of Story website also features the following sobering statistics:
— Ninety percent of women today do not reach their fullest potential as leaders and entrepreneurs (Guardian.com)
— Less than 2 percent of women earn over the $1 million mark annually.
— Two-thirds of the world’s illiterate adults are women (United Nations, 2015)
— One in three women face violence or death by an intimate partner or family member.
According to Smith, the absence of hope creates disengagement in schools and the workplace, perpetuates crime and causes businesses to fail.
To learn more about the International School of Story, visit www.internationalschool of story.org.