Despite increased attention within the public health field to the need to refrain from stigmatizing teen mothers, prevailing views continue to suggest that these young women cause a whole host of social problems. In an effort to reframe public conversations about young moms and sexuality, health, and reproductive rights, the University of Massachusetts, Amherst School of Public Health initiated the “Hear Our Stories” project, in collaboration with StoryCenter and several other MA and national organizations.Read More
Recognizing that the globalized food system dominating food production and consumption in the United States is both unhealthy and unsustainable, committed activists around the country have for years now been exploring ways to create alternatives. The United States Department of Agriculture-funded Food Dignity project is a research, education, and extension effort bringing together five local organizations and three universities, to learn how to build healthy, sustainable food systems.Read More
Graduate-level education in public health often involves professional field placements that test the knowledge of students within contexts and conditions of community and international settings. Reflection on field placements can become a critical part of the training process, for pre-professions. The stories of student successes and challenges in these placements assists in telling the story of an educational institution's own goals and accomplishments for preparing the public health leaders of tomorrow. The Fielding School of Public Health at the University of California, Los Angeles, understands the importance of supporting its graduate students in sharing stories of how service placements have changed them, as people and as professionals.Read More
Community Bridges in Central New Hampshire promotes opportunities for people with developmental disabilities to exert positive control over their lives. The organization focuses on supporting all members of the local community– those with developmental disabilities, and those without– in benefitting from caring, connected relationships. In the fall of 2014, Community Bridges reached out to StoryCenter, with a desire to explore how story sharing and storymaking can break down the stigma of disability and promote mutually helpful relationships.Read More
Charleston, SC has a rich history and oral storytelling heritage, and the Charleston County Public Library (CCPL) is one of the hosting partners of the annual Charleston Tells Storytelling Festival each spring. In 2014, CCPL decided to add a digital component to the storytelling festival. After contacting StoryCenter, CCPL applied for, and was awarded, a Library Services and Technology Act grant from the Institute of Library and Museum Services administered by the South Carolina State Library.Read More
The goal of the Banyan Tree Project (BTP) is to eliminate HIV stigma in Asian and Pacific Islander communities across the United States and its Pacific territories. The BTP's communications and community engagement campaign is led by the Asian and Pacific Islander Wellness Center in San Francisco (A&PIWC), and is funded by the Centers for Disease Control. At the heart of the project is a commitment to sharing stories about HIV that empower people with knowledge and inspire action.Read More
While community support services for survivors and witnesses of violence are widely available in the United States, specific attention to the country’s diverse cultural and linguistic needs continues to be in short supply. Asian Women’s Shelter (AWS), based in San Francisco, CA, has for more than 20 years provided survivors of violence and their communities with vital programs that address domestic violence and human trafficking. AWS works with survivors from across the Bay Area, United States, and Pacific territories, paying particular attention to the cultural and linguistic needs of immigrants and refugees from West, South, Southeast, and East Asia.Read More
The school dropout rate among lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning (LGBTQ) youth is nearly three times the national average. With support from Colorado Public Television (CPT12) and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the American Graduate Project aims to re-engage Denver, CO LGBTQ youth in school, through a combination of the multi-media effort "Drop in Denver," community conversation, and the provision of individual guidance to LGBTQ youth.Read More
Partnership for Appalachian Girls’ Education (PAGE): Teaching 21st Century Literacy Skills to Appalachian Girls
Though all areas of Appalachia share the problem of rural poverty, the central Appalachian region, which includes western North Carolina, has the highest poverty rate and a higher percentage of working poor than any other area in the United States. According to the Appalachian Regional Commission, nearly 60 percent of adults in central Appalachia did not graduate from high school, and almost 30 percent of Appalachian adults are functionally illiterate. Gender inequality in the region is also high – women from the Appalachian states share common challenges resulting from low educational attainment, limited employment skills, few strong role models, and low self-esteem.Read More
The fervor in the United States over the "War on Drugs" and the development of punitive "crime reduction" strategies in the 1980s and 1990s created mandatory minimum sentencing laws that dramatically increased prison populations across the country- at the local, state, and federal level. In California, the "Three Strikes" law of 1994 created mandatory sentences for any third felony conviction, leading to people receive sentences of 25 years to life for stealing a slice of pizza or for any number of other non-violent offenses. Experiences of incarceration, re-entry into society, and the obstacles facing those who have served time are critical stories that must be documented, in the country that leads the world in imprisoning its population.Read More
In recent years, and in tandem with longstanding social justice organizing efforts, the broader public health community has begun to acknowledge and address the significant health impacts of mass incarceration. The Transitions Clinic Network, a model begun at San Francisco General Hospital, provides comprehensive health services to formerly incarcerated women and men. The Network is now expanding nationwide.Read More
Volunteerism has always been a critical aspect of civic culture in Canada, which leads the world in the amount of GDP focussed on the non-profit sector. Volunteer Toronto is a clearinghouse for the sector, working with hundreds of partner organizations to connect potential volunteers with agencies in need of assistance. Capturing the stories of these volunteers, and the impact they have on the lives of individuals, communities, and environments, helps to deepen the culture of volunteerism.Read More
When the Wild Center opened its doors in 2006, it was already one of the most unique science museums in the United States, situated in the heart of the country's largest natural park. The Center's relationship to the local and regional community has always been one of active engagement, and nowhere was that more true than with the decision to provide a maple sugaring education and production facility right at the museum. The Community Maple Project brought scientists and experts, commercial producers, and do-it-yourself enthusiasts together to help the community re-claim the tradition of maple sugaring.Read More
By Stella Ojuok, University of Washington, Kenya
Stella works with the DREAMS Innovation Challenge project of the University of Washington, which increases access to PrEP for adolescent girls and young women through public sector clinics in Kenya and aims to promote voluntary HIV testing among their partners.
Growing up, I never questioned a woman’s worth in a relationship. I was surrounded by very strong women who seemed to me just as empowered as men, my mum being one of them. I went through school not feeling much of a difference between boys and girls.
Then I landed my current job. One of my duties is to capture the experiences of health workers who provide PrEP services (the pill you take before having sex, to prevent HIV transmission). At first, I reported many success stories, and then I started noticing a disturbing pattern. Quite a number of women who were started on PrEP due to their feeling at risk from their husbands’ lifestyles were later opting out because of the same men. It seemed they were doing so at the request of their husbands. Some had even been forced to stop, after being verbally threatened or even physically assaulted.
How could it be that women would not dare to protect themselves against HIV infection, out of fear of their spouses? ‘’Is this what marriage is like?’’ I asked myself as I documented incident after incident. “Does getting married mean putting ourselves second? Risking it all to ‘make it work’? Is marriage worth such a price?” These questions popped into my mind as I tried to understand this scary trend.
I am a product of a very successful marriage. I believe in marriage as much as I do gender equity. I also believe that women have the right to be safe from intimidation or violence at the hands of their intimate partners. Surely it should not be women’s responsibility to make relationships work, especially when doing so might cost them their lives.
Because we were able to highlight this worrying trend, women in the program who experience intimate partner violence are now referred to services offering prevention and appropriate responses. I also started an active campaign for young women, on self-worth in relationships. My first stop was “Sauti Skika” (amplify voices), and yes it was a success!
But this is only the first step: we must also work with men to revise their views of masculinity and mobilize them to stop trying to control women but instead treat them as equals.
All photos provided by Stella Ojuok.
By George Semwayo, 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.
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.
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.
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.
All photos provided by George Semwayo.
By Grace Nakaggwe, Wizarts, Uganda
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 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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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