The popular Facebook page Humans of New York has inspired millions of people with its stories of everyday inhabitants of the Big Apple. There are sad stories, funny stories and most of all, moving stories. Based on the page's success – it has some 14 million followers – people all over the world are now creating their own pages and websites to share the stories of otherwise anonymous citizens.
Behind the initiatives lies the question that everyone has likely asked themselves at one time or another while walking down a crowded street somewhere: "What’s the story behind all of these faces?" When you try to answer that question, it can lead to the most amazing tales. Putting a story to anonymous faces in the crowd can move people to rethink their views and change their perspectives. It’s all about being aware that we are not as different from each other as we may think.
With that in mind, three young students living in Denmark decided to create their own Facebook page called Stories of Aarhus earlier this month. In just a matter of weeks, they have nearly reached 3,000 likes. Coming from different backgrounds, they decided to put their creativity to work with the main goal of boosting positivity and sharing local people’s stories.
The Local spoke with the page's creators, Viktorija Gorcakovaite, Line Myven and Joanna Shufan Li, about their efforts to build a positive community concept.
Viktorija, Joanna and Line are sharing Aarhus local residents stories. Photo: Stories of Aarhus.
“We think that everyone has something meaningful to say,” said 25-year-old Viktorija Gorcakovaite of their motto ‘One picture, one story and one inspiration at a time'.
Joanna Shufan Li, a 22-year-old originally from China, said that the project is about capturing the feel of Denmark's second-largest city.
“We want to show what kind of a vibe Aarhus has, to get the essence of what Aarhus is seen through its people's eyes. We try to be objective about it and not include our own perspectives," she said.
Their way of working is similar to Humans of New York.
“We ask random people in the street, it’s very spontaneous and natural,” Gorcakovaite said. “But beside the randomness, the three of us are looking to capture the story the way it is.”
“That’s how we get the natural vibe, talking to people. Then we get the pictures and the quotes in the course of the conversation,” added Line Myven, a 25-year-old from Norway.
“Our main goal is to create a shared community including local peoples' stories," she added.
Sharing everyday stories has been part of the quick success of Stories of Aarhus. Photo: Stories of Aarhus.
Also inspired by Humans of New York, 31-year-old Gabriel Saban has made a similar project but with a more targeted focus.
Born in Argentina and with a Master's from Roskilde University, Saban is behind a Facebook page that has become popular by showing pictures of immigrants in Copenhagen with a description of their stories. The page, called Mød os- Indvandrere i København (Meet us - Immigrants of Copenhagen), is in both Danish and English and is approaching 7,000 followers.
Saban's objective is to use the Facebook page to build a bridge between Danes and immigrants, to break down barriers and get to know each others' stories.
Gabriel Saban is behind the 'Immigrants of Copenhagen' project. Photo: Agustin Millan
“I really identify with some of the stories,” Saban told The Local.
Saban, who has been living in Denmark for the past five years, said he want to use the page to shatter stereotypes and combat racism.
"In order to fight the fear of the different, we have to eliminate distance and overcome ignorance,” he said. "Breaking the stereotypes through putting faces to the stories and giving a glimpse into somebody´s life contributes to fight abstract and unfounded generalizations of immigrants."
The Argentinean said that the success of projects like his, Humans of New York and Stories of Aarhus comes from the fact that many people want to know more about their fellow residents.
"Sometimes it is hard to ask controversial things. For example, it can be very awkward for a Dane to ask an Arab woman about her reasons for wearing a veil because it may sound disrespectful. That is why I am doing this initiative, to create a space where questions can be asked and answers can be found."
But his project doesn't stop on Facebook. Saban also periodically organizes photo exhibitions. There, the audience can meet the people featured in the Facebook photographs and create a space where people can meet and build a community.
Nearly 200 people went to the latest show.
“It is a good place to meet each other face to face. It's also a mistake to victimize immigrants – in fact you should not get surprised if when talking to them you find out they have a PhD,” Saban said.
Immigration is one of the most controversial topics in Danish politics and has been for years. About his role in this debate, Saban argued that his initiative was helping make it less one-sided.
“We have to understand that integration is a twofold process, and it does not depend exclusively on immigrants. Danes have to change to make the integration of immigrants a reality. It is not that difficult… just in the same way Danes made the potato a national food, even though it's originally from Peru."