In the United States, many people believe female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) is not an issue. Western media have long focused on the notion that FGM/C occurs in “other countries,” with an emphasis on “African communities.” However, as the recent ruling on the case against Dawoodi Bohra doctors in Michigan for performing FGC on two minor girls demonstrates, FGC is both a global AND domestic issue, affecting communities outside AND within the United States. Within the United States, the CDC estimates that half a million women and girls are at risk of undergoing FGC. Sahiyo United Against Female Genital Cutting understands that FGM/C continues because it is viewed as an acceptable social norm, and works to build a cadre of women’s willing to speak out against the practice, as a way of supporting communities in advocating to end the practice.
Girls and young women account for 74 percent of new HIV infections among adolescents in sub-Saharan Africa, and nearly 1,000 are infected with HIV every day. Social isolation, poverty, patriarchal cultural norms, gender-based violence, and inadequate schooling all contribute to girls’ vulnerability to HIV and lives not lived to their full potential. The DREAMS (Determined, Resilient, Empowered, AIDS-free, Mentored and Safe) partnership goes beyond typical health initiatives to address these factors, working toward meeting the Sustainable Development Goal of ending AIDS by 2030. DREAMS is an ambitious, public-private effort to reduce rates of HIV among adolescent girls and young women in the highest HIV burden countries, which in 2015 accounted for nearly half of all the new HIV infections among adolescent girls and young women globally: Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
In India and Bangladesh, the problem of gender-based violence is exacerbated by deeply rooted patriarchal social structures. Women and girls are discriminated against right from birth, and gender disparity is seen in all spheres – political, educational, religious, civil service, private sector, etc. Many longstanding cultural, religious, and traditional practices in both countries reinforce male superiority and define women as weak, subordinate human beings who exist solely to serve men and their needs. Beyond the immediate health impacts of gender-based violence, the long shadows of its enduring legacy can impede the ability of survivors to participate successfully in education and training activities, achieve economic stability, and engage with cultural and civic life. On a more personal level, the trauma of violence can scar women’s relationships with intimate partners, children, and friends.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
As part of the lead up to the 2013 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington D.C. for Jobs and Justice, the event that gave us Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech, the National Park Service engaged in activities commemorating the civil rights movement. The Park Service's Office of Interpretation and Education, in collaboration with the National Mall and Memorial Parks and important African American D.C.-based National Historic Sites including the Mary McLeod Bethune Council House and Carter G. Woodson Home, sponsored programs to call attention to local civil rights history. The Park Service was particularly interested in connecting young college students with historic places, and with community members who attended the March and engaged in other forms of civil rights activism.
Type II Diabetes is higher among immigrants and refugees in the United States than in the general population. Many immigrants and refugees do not receive the healthcare information that they need, about the disease. Healthy behavior changes, such as increased physical activity, dietary modifications, and medication adherence, are often challenging for immigrants and refugees to implement, due to language barriers, cultural norms that discourage seeking healthcare, and socio-economic barriers to accessing services. Low health literacy disproportionately affects racial and ethnic minority groups.
The rich legacy of the civil rights movement was commemorated across the country in 2013, which marked the 30th Anniversary of the historic March on Washington. To honor the work of activists in the 1950s and 60s, several groups in the City of Denver, CO developed a project to encourage awareness and present-day engagement with civil rights issues, as part of StoryCenter's All Together Now initiative.
StoryCenter's pioneering digital storytelling methods support multi-modal learning and have been demonstrated to increase college students' engagement and retention. Houston Community Colleges (HCCS) is the fourth largest community college system in the United States, serving more than 55,000 students. Beginning in 2014, we led Educational Technology Services and Curriculum Innovation Services staff from the six colleges, as well as faculty from various disciplines, through a series of three-day digital storytelling workshops. Following completion of their own stories, a sub-group of participants attended customized training for facilitation and implementation in the classroom. The program is part of a three-year training and implementation effort designed to incorporate digital storytelling methods across the six HCC campuses.