Digital story telling: Working with your own Story

Perhaps they told someone else, but had never told their own stories to themselves. As part of a case study being conducted in Kenya on access to HIV services among women and girls living in poor urban areas, Pauline and Emmy conducted a four-day digital story telling (DST) training with six women from Nairobi’s urban poor communities. The aim was to involve women in policy development, by working with them to share their personal stories via the medium of DST.

Three of the women were from Kibera in Lang’ata Constituency, and the other three from Majengo ward in Starehe Constituency. Those from Majengo were sex workers while those from Kibera included a widow, remarried widow and a married woman.  Four of the women were primary school dropouts, one dropped out of secondary school, while one was a post secondary graduate.  

Recruitment process of the participants was based on the following criteria:

  • HIV positive
  • currently accessing or had previously accessed HIV services
  • can participate freely (be able to express themselves and interact easily)
  • computer literate.

The last criteria proved challenging - it was difficult getting those who knew how to use computer, yet ipads were used in production of DST. However, only one was familiar with smart phones.   

After selection, the women were asked to write their stories on HIV and access to services. In addition, they were to come with their photos or pictorials representing their story. The women were provided with pens and writing materials.

They women who stopped writing when they dropped out of school were a bit confused as to why we were taking them back to school. However, they arrived with the stories, the stories written for researchers. Only one who had a smart phone arrived with photos. Others did not bring any photos for confidentiality purposes. 

After introductions, the women watched digital stories made elsewhere. Step by step, the women were taken through DST process. From this experience, with the help of trainers, they rewrote and read to themselves their stories out loud. It was the telling of the stories to themselves out loud that triggered emotional breakdown, and provided the added dimension of digital story telling as a therapy.  From this point, there was determination in telling their stories and working on images.  The women who had never used computers adapted very fast to the use of ipads in making illustrations.

The process changed the women’s outlook to life: they were amazed that after many years of not writing they could write and produce a story of their lives. Some turned out to be very good at drawing, others were good at reading, some expressed interest in painting, others expressed interest in going back to school, some were very happy they could read loudly in the presence of other people and were motivated to continue reading for their children. 

At the end of the exercise, all women strived to have their voices heard by policy makers through DST. Their beaming faces told it all.