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Case Studies

My Gift

Amy Hill

By George Samwayo, SAYWHAT, Zimbabwe

George works on SAYWHAT’s DREAMS Innovation Challenge project, using his artistic skills to create graphics and messages for young people, about how to achieve their sexual and reproductive health and rights.

When I was seven, my parents got separated, and I began to stay with my grandparents. This brought loneliness at first, and then I began to enjoy spending time alone. When I was alone, I always felt safe and secure. My grandparents were around, but I hardly felt their presence.

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I developed a passion for art. I traced pictures of cars from magazines and newspapers using a clear plastic bag and then reproduced them on different paper. I enjoyed using black ink in all my drawings, and every time I completed one, I was inspired to do more. Self-motivation became my strength.

But my father was against the idea of me drawing. He would say, “You are wasting your time drawing instead of reading your school books.” Every time he visited, I quickly hid all my drawings and pretended to read. I felt tense when he was there, my space was being invaded.

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One cloudy afternoon, as I was sketching outside on a small, wooden stool beneath an avocado tree, my father showed up unexpectedly. Right away, he began to criticize me, saying I wouldn’t achieve anything from art. But then my aunt came forward and said, “Don’t discourage him -- if it’s a gift, let him pursue it.” I couldn’t believe it.

She began to encourage me and even took me for lessons at a local art gallery. I knew that even though my father was against me drawing, I just had to believe in myself, because I had no other vision of what I could be. After taking art in primary school and high school, I found out about different careers I could do, with art. I spent many nights drawing, to create an impressive portfolio for my college application. I was accepted and completed a four year program in 2015.

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(George, you didn’t mention what your relationship with your father is like today. If it has improved, you might think about adding a line here, such as, “And my father? He was so proud, in spite of himself.”)

Some of the young people I work with today tell me about the pain they feel when their parents try to push them in school subjects or careers they don’t want. I always think about those kind words of my auntie, when I encourage them to hold on to their dreams, no matter what.

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Girls and Boys Have Equal Value

Amy Hill

By Grace Nakaggwe

Grace leads the Wizarts DREAMS Innovation Challenge Project, which focuses on preventing HIV and AIDS by helping to ensure that adolescent girls stay in school.

I was born last, out of ten children. Despite my parents being educated, they lived at odds with each other. My father’s people had no consideration for my mother -- she suffered at the hands of her in laws for giving birth to more girls than boys.

My father had many relationships outside their marriage. He wanted to have sons in order to validate his status as a man. It felt very disgracing as a daughter, to be de-valued -- it never seemed fair to me, that somehow we girls were not enough for him. For years, my mother was lost in bitterness, anger, and quarrels, and our home was a war zone.

So it was my elder sister who raised me. She was my best friend, mentor, and the only mother I ever knew. She gave me a good education, encouraged me to believe in myself, and made me determined to achieve. She always said, “Beauty is embracing who we are.” I won’t forget all the sacrifices she made. She held the family together, after my father finally departed for a new marriage with a young woman, and she relieved our mother of financial stress by getting a job.

When my sister passed away suddenly, I was shocked, broken. All my dreams and hopes crumbled. Worst of all, her burial was rushed, and I was wasn’t allowed time to mourn her death because she had neither married nor had a child. I wondered, “Was she less of a person for not having done these things? Was she not a mother to me?”

In our Baganda culture, women who haven’t married or had children also have no inheritance rights, unless there is a legal will that specifies so. It didn’t matter that I was her next of kin -- within just two weeks of her passing, all her household property was distributed among male relatives. I was very depressed

But slowly, I recovered, and I became determined to help other girls access their rights. I believe that girls should treated the same as boys. Gender should have nothing to do with someone’s value and opportunities in life.

 

Sample Youth Story: Selina

Amy Hill

The day after I finished secondary school, I told my parents I was going to the capital city. It’s far from our village, a 20 hours drive. My mother said, ‘You should not go!’ My father said, ‘You should go!’

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When I reached the city, I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t understand Twi or English very well. I was at the bus station, and I saw a girl who was a porter. I greeted her, I said, ‘I don’t know where to sleep, I need help.’ She told me to come with her. We stayed in a room together with 10 other girls.

One day I was going to my work as a porter, and I met a girl I knew from the village. She told me she lived alone and that I could stay with her. That evening, she and some of her friends were dressing up. They said, ‘If you want to survive, you should have sex.’ They were doing it for money. They told me they would make up my eyes, give me new clothes and shoes.

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At first I thought maybe I should do it for a while, so I could make some money to go back home. But I knew my parents would kill me, if they found out. When I said no, the girls got angry. They told me if I wasn’t going to do it, I had to leave.

I still work at the market, but instead of carrying goods, I help a woman cook and sell rice and yams. I went back to my village this year to visit my family, at Easter. I told the girls there that the city is not how they imagine it. Instead of moving there, they decided to stay home, even though life is hard in the village too.

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Sample Written Story: Sibongile

Amy Hill

My name is Sibongile. I got married on the ninth of December 2000. It was a white wedding, held at the Simunye Pentecostal church in Swaziland. We were so happy. But after three years, my husband got sick and died.

He was an employee at Simunye Sugar Company, so we had been staying in one of the company houses. Even before he was buried, my in-laws wanted a share of what we had. They took everything, from the bedroom to the kitchen and the car. They left nothing for me and the children.

Rural Swaziland, where Sibongile lives.

Rural Swaziland, where Sibongile lives.

In the Swazi custom, a woman must stay indoors, away from the public, for 30 days, beginning from the day her husband passes away. So I went to his parental home, with my children. After the cleansing ceremony, my in-laws asked if I wanted to visit my parents. I thought they were being supportive. When I returned after two weeks, I found out I had been wrong.

I found my mother in law, sitting in front of the house with her friends. They laughed at me and shouted, “Where is this one going to, because this is my home, not your mother’s home. Take all your kids and go away.” She called one of her other grandchildren and told her to lock the door.

On top of this, I was very sick at the time; the doctors were sure I would die any moment. But I started my ARV treatment and recovered well. It was so very hard to live without a job and with no support from relatives. I managed to rent a small apartment in the country, and my husband’s company paid the school fees for the children. We struggled to live.

Sibongile with her children

Sibongile with her children

I want to counsel HIV positive women like me -- this is in my heart. You see, in our country there is no law that protects the inheritance rights of women. If you are a woman, you cannot get a piece of land by yourself. You have to bring a boy child, so that the land can be registered in the boy’s surname. Until we gain our rights, we must help each other to survive.

- Sibongile works at the Swazi National Network of People Living with HIV and AIDS, in Swaziland

 

Sample Written Story: Tembelani

Amy Hill

Tembelani's views about what it means "to be a man" have changed, over the years

Tembelani's views about what it means "to be a man" have changed, over the years

Growing up, I had three families: my mother’s home, my father’s family home, and my maternal aunt’s home. My mother said, “If you have three homes, you must always visit all of them.” Two of these homes wanted to send me to school. I chose my father’s family, because they had cattle that I could look after, and I was excited about that life. So I stayed there, preferring to look after the cattle rather than going to school. I thought this is what it meant to be a man.

As I was getting older, I went to find work in Johannesburg. I found a job in the mine. I came back to my village in Eastern Cape to go to circumcision school. When I returned to my job, I got injured in both legs, but that was a blessing for me. I never liked being in the city, as it meant I was far away from home. So I stayed at my village, later becoming a ward councillor.

After getting injured on the job, Tembelani left Johannesburg and return to his village

After getting injured on the job, Tembelani left Johannesburg and return to his village

One day, some people came here to teach us about the rights of children. Village men said that raising children was a job to be done by women; the trainers said both women and men can take care of people. I realised that I was not treating my own children properly. I even thought that’s what being a man meant.

Now, I have totally different ideas of what it means to be a man. I help run programmes at schools, advising boys about sex and how to use condoms. These boys even tell me, “We do want to test our blood,” but the problem is that clinics are far away, and people don’t have money for transport to get there. I see this as my challenge, to ensure there are clinics here.

Because of my role in the village, all the people here are my responsibility, especially on issues concerning health. Now I no longer have just three homes – I need to look after the entire village. They are all looking up at me. Leaders must not be afraid to speak out about what is helpful and what is right.

- Tembelani works for the municipal government in Qumbu, South Africa

 

Sample Written Story: Nolusindiso

Amy Hill

My father passed away when I was nine years old. My mother took care of us until 2002, and when she also died, I was left with my brothers and sisters. Our older brother looked after us, feeding us as well. But when he got married, he had other responsibilities.

After both her her parents died, Nolusindiso was left to care for her younger siblings

After both her her parents died, Nolusindiso was left to care for her younger siblings

I then became the parent to the young ones. I tried to apply for their grant money. I collected it and then took care of them. A lady in our area saw what I was doing for my family. She said, “We would like to offer you a job, to help you take care of orphans and vulnerable children.”

At her organisation, new employees get tested for HIV. I was very scared, because I had been having sex without a condom. I also knew that rumours would spread if I went to the clinic. But I got my blood tested, and I got lucky – I tested negative.

My heart was glad and joyful for the job I got. I have learnt a lot about HIV and AIDS. I can now stand tall in my village and tell people that all of us are HIV positive or HIV negative. It is just that some are infected, while others are affected. It makes no difference, who faces which of these things.

Nolusindiso is so happy that her job allows her to support children in need

Nolusindiso is so happy that her job allows her to support children in need

I have worked with young children for almost a year. I make sure their relatives spend their grant money wisely – that instead of buying alcohol, they buy food, clothing, and school items. I’m proud of myself, because I am able to take care of children who have lost their parents, just like I did.

- Nolusindiso works for the municipal government in Qumbu, South Africa

Sample Written Story: Tapiwa

Amy Hill

My father used to beat my mother and call her names. He used culture as an excuse to deny her, and to deny us our rights to peace. He would say, “Women and children should respect the head of this family, and no one can rule besides me in this house. It’s my culture.” I had to ask myself what kind of culture that could be. I was young, I couldn’t do anything, but I wanted to fight him back.

When I was bigger, I went to a boarding school. I used to worry about my mom when I was away. I wondered what my dad was doing to her and what would happen if I went home for the holidays. I couldn’t concentrate, with all the wondering.

Tapiwa (far left) at boarding school

Tapiwa (far left) at boarding school

I joined a gender and HIV/AIDS club that had more girl members than boys. I learned the many misconceptions my schoolmates had about gender. For the boys, gender was about women’s issues; it had nothing to do with being a man. This disturbed me, because I knew from my own life how gender-based violence affects both women and men.

In my work today, my colleagues and I challenge young men’s ideas about what a man should be like. When they say, “Men should take risks, because that’s what being a man is about,” we point out that certain kinds of risks are not about being brave, they are about getting HIV. As a man, I want to change the thinking of other men and young boys about the roles they play in life as husbands, fathers, and members of communities. I have vowed not to use violence in my life.

A few years ago, I was sitting with my dad in the garden, and we started talking about a domestic violence murder that had happened recently. Right away, he brought up the times he had been violent. He apologized for what he had done to us and to my mom. I could see that he is a different person than he was. He respects my mother and us as his children. My father’s story tells me that our strength as men doesn’t have to be for hurting. Instead, it can be for finding the courage to change.

- Tapiwa works with the Padare Men’s Forum on Gender, in Zimbabwe

 

Putting a Face on Hepatitis B: The #justB Storytelling Project

Amy Hill

To date, more than two billion people worldwide have been infected with hepatitis B. The Hepatitis B Foundation, which works to improve the lives of people living with hepatitis B recognizes that directly engaging community members in speaking out about obstacles to testing, prevention, and care is essential to reducing the stigma associated with the virus, encouraging screening, and improving services.

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Women’s Policy Institute: Sharing Stories of Women’s Health and Gender Justice

Amy Hill

The Women’s Foundation of California’s Women’s Policy Institute (WPI) is striving to increase the number of women and trans people who are actively engaged in public policy so that they can have a greater impact on the fundamental conditions that affect their lives, families, and communities. The WPI understands that storytelling forms an important part of the process of amplifying the voices of historically marginalized groups during the policymaking process, galvanizing community support for particular policies, and raising the awareness and consciousness of legislators as well as potential allies and supporters.

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Oregon Health Authority and Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs: Using Storytelling to Illustrate the Impacts of Climate Change on Health

Amy Hill

Public health practitioners are increasingly focused on the critical need to address the relationship between climate change and health. Leading the way on statewide efforts to build community resiliency for mitigating these impacts is the Oregon Health Authority (OHA), which in the fall of 2016 released a Climate and Health Resilience Plan. Among a range of actions outlined in the plan is the use of storytelling methods to engage local community members in learning about and responding to climate change.

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University of Maryland (Baltimore County) Demonstrates the Power of Story in Service Learning

Emily Paulos

Colleges and Universities across the United States and around the world are increasingly embracing models for service learning, as a way of connecting students with local communities and needs. As a way of kicking off a service-learning program led by the UMBC New Media Studio (NMS), StoryCenter led a series of digital storytelling trainings for staff and faculty. What then emerged was a collaboration involving the NMS and Retirement Living Television (RLTV), a closed circuit television programming effort of the Erickson Retirement Communities (now Erickson Living). 

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The Ohio State University Develops a Community of Practice to Engage Students, Faculty, and Staff in Digital Storytelling

Emily Paulos

In 2005, two members of the Ohio State University (OSU) library system, Karen Diaz and Anne Fields, attended our StoryCenter digital storytelling workshop in Asheville, NC and together created a story about renovations to the OSU library. Upon their return to Ohio, they engaged the newly formed Digital Union in a project to integrate digital storytelling into the library system’s information technology and curriculum support services. A year later, OSU invited us to lead an on-campus workshop, for a group of faculty and staff. This session resulted in the formation of an OSU Digital Storytelling Leadership Team, comprised of members drawn from several parts of the university.

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Afghan Women’s Writing Project – An Innovative, Online Approach to Documenting and Advocating for Women's Rights

Ary Smith

After decades of war and occupation, Afghanistan continues to face tremendous challenges. While the current government claims to support gender equality and women’s rights, daily conditions for women and girls have improved little. Rates of gender-based violence are high; the Taliban persists in its attempts to assert control; and the legacy of the ongoing conflict has left nearly 80% of women unable to read and write. Since 2009, the Afghan Women’s Writing Project (AWWP) has helped hundreds of Afghan women craft essays and poems and share them with the world. These writings enable thousands of readers each month hear directly from Afghan women on issues of personal, cultural, and political significance. 

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Grassroot Soccer South Africa: Speak UP! Young South African Women Share Stories of Identity, Gender, and Violence

Ary Smith

Traditional patriarchal and cultural norms in South Africa, coupled with the legacy of the systemic, state-sanctioned violence of Apartheid over generations, has fueled a society with one of the world’s highest rates of sexual and gender-based violence against adolescent girls and young women. Grassroot Soccer leverages the power of soccer to educate, inspire, and mobilize South African youth to overcome their greatest health challenges, live healthier, more productive lives, and be agents for change in their communities. The organization works with young adult mentors to incorporate sport in dynamic, interactive lessons that provide a safe space for engaging adolescents, deconstructing harmful gender norms, preventing violence, and encouraging participants to seek sexual and reproductive health services.

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Rocky Mountain Public Health Training Center: Storytelling Webinars and Working with Native American Communities

Ary Smith

At StoryCenter, we've heard time and time again from public health professionals of the need to put the "public" back into public health, and while many talk about community engagement, they're still seeking successful and viable ways to put it into practice. This is what the Rocky Mountain Public Health Training Center (RMPH-TC) said to us when they initiated a partnership to bring StoryCenter's storytelling webinars and workshops to public health professionals across the Rocky Mountain region. 

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The Nature Conservancy: Communicating in New Ways About Marine Planning

Emily Paulos

Since its founding in 1951, the vision of the Nature Conservancy has been a world where the diversity of life thrives, and people act to conserve nature for its own sake as well as its ability to fulfill their needs and enrich their lives. Through the dedicated efforts of its diverse staff, the Nature Conservancy uses a non-confrontational, collaborative approach to advance conservation efforts around the world. 

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Project Re•Vision: Bringing a Disability Lens to Health Care

Emily Paulos

Project Re•Vision aims to help disabled people share their experiences with healthcare providers and policymakers, in hopes of eliminating stereotypes, increasing understanding, and improving care and policy. “There’s a lot of evidence that people with disabilities are invalidated, and their healthcare is poorer than those without disabilities," states Project Re•Vision Director Dr. Carla Rice. “If we can bring a disability studies lens to care and begin to get providers– from doctors onward– to see disability as another identity category, as opposed to a biomedical or individual problem, that’s going to go a long way to improve healthcare interactions.”

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Sunny Hill Services: Critical Conversations - Talking with LGBTQ Youth About Mental Health

Emily Paulos

While significant gains have been made in raising awareness about the challenges faced by LGBTQ-identified young people in navigating familial and community stigma and accessing queer-friendly health and mental health services, these youth continue to experience discrimination and misunderstanding in many mental health settings. The “Our Space” program of Sunny Hills Services (Hayward, CA) provides a safe environment for LGBTQ youth to talk about their difficulties and successes. Our Space also advocates with providers for improved service delivery.

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Nehemiah Corporation: Leadership Through Storytelling and Technology

Emily Paulos

Effectiveness and ethical practices often seem to be at odds, in professional environments, whether civic or commercial. The tendency to put organizational needs over the needs of people and their communities can lead to disastrous results. With appropriate training, support, and ongoing dialogue, leaders can find ways to hold the stories of their publics, alongside the story of the stresses and strains of maintaining an institution. Over the years, many organizations have created fellowship programs for emergent leadership, to instill a sense of ethics and integrity of purpose, in young professionals.

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Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County: Using Storytelling to Inform Exhibition Planning

Emily Paulos

A museum that serves a million visitors a year has many stories to tell about the intersection between museum staff and the public. In 2014, the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County opened its massive "Nature Gardens/Nature Lab" indoor/outdoor permanent exhibit. As part of the launch preparations, the museum invited StoryCenter to assist in a series of workshops designed to explore how storytelling could inform the planning and implementation process and build a stronger sense of trust and awareness, among the many layers of staff engaged in the project.    

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