Empowering community members to challenge stigma through storytelling

Aphiwe Mtendeni, our team leader and young filmmaker from the Eastern Cape, captured over thirty person’s stories who live with HIV on film. On completion, he returned to show participants their films and discuss how they would like to use them. The outcome was that participants wanted to use their films as a communicative tool that would help them disclose to close family members and facilitate talk among young people among their community - breaking the silence of stigma and increasing HIV knowledge.

“We want to take our films and share them with the youth in our community; we must accept and support each other, not stigmatise - we are no different from others”.

“I heard that my son was making a film about his story. So, I went to the SALUS team and told them that he has never told me that he is HIV positive, although I know, and that him not telling me eats at me. The next day he came to me, saying ‘mum, I didn’t want to tell you because all of your other children have died of AIDS, and I am the only one left, so I didn’t want you to worry’. We cried together, and now we are one again.”

“The paster told my son that he could be healed of HIV if he is saved, and to believe in his healing he must stop his medicine. Just before he died in hospital, he had a breakdown because God did not come. The pastors can pray, but they must stop telling people not to take their medicine. I miss my son”.

“I took my film and showed people on the main street. I showed six young men; they told me that they couldn’t believe that I was HIV positive because I looked so well. They said they felt motivated to test because now they have nothing to fear, and could they come and talk more if they tested positive for my support. I said yes, they must come”.

The SALUS team conducted a qualitative case study that explored how members of their community used their storytelling films to facilitate talk about HIV, stigma and treatment among their family and friends. Twelve community members were recruited. Several participants used their films to disclose to family members and friends. The films facilitated group discussions about HIV, disclosure, and treatment. Viewers were motivated to test as they had learned that you could live a normal and healthy life with HIV.Overall, participants felt highly motivated and empowered by the project, and said that they would like to continue by sharing their stories in schools, churches, and their wider community.