While Native Hawaiians and Asian Pacific Islanders represent 0.4 percent of the total population in the United States, the AIDS case rate was twice that of the white population in 2010. In that same year, Native Hawaiians/Pacific Islanders were 2.6 times more likely to be diagnosed with HIV infection, as compared to the white population. Much more is known about HIV, the virus that causes AIDS and medical advances have shown to prolong health. However, lingering issues of stigma still remain. Henry Ocampo shares about the efforts to reduce stigma and share the stories from the community through the power of digital storytelling.
Visit the "Taking Root" project website to see videos from the digital story telling project
OMH: How did the Taking Root project get started?
Henry Ocampo: The Asian Pacific Islander Wellness Center approached the Center for Digital Storytelling based in Berkely, California to partner with them for their Banyan Tree Project, which addresses stigma in the Asian Pacific Islander community. Stigma around HIV is still an issue with Asian and Pacific Islander communities. Digital storytelling is one of the ways we can talk about the stigma, and personalize and share stories from the community without having to "out" someone, because talking about being HIV positive is still difficult for a lot of folks.
OMH: What did the process entail?
Henry: The first day is called a story circle and that's when the participants focus on their story. Each participant shares their story with the group and tries to figure out what they want to share on a personal level and gets constructive feedback. For some folks it's one of the first times of being in a space with another person that has HIV or for others, it's the first time of opening up about their HIV status in a group of people. So the first day is really critical in creating that atmosphere of support. And especially with writing these stories, we emphasize that this is your own truth, there is no right or wrong, so no one's there to judge you or be critical. On the second day the participants start collecting images, music and sound to help convey their story and learning the equipment. The third day is about putting it all together.
OMH: What are the benefits of using this format for raising awareness?
Henry: It's the technology age and everything is being shared online through Facebook, YouTube and social media. This is a cutting-edge medium to put this out there. Also, it's sharing an individual story, which you don't always get to hear from our community. With digital storytelling, you can share personal stories and address what stigma means to people living with HIV or their family members or caregivers or those who work in the field of public health. It's not a PSA, so it is a balance of sharing the story while being respectful of the storyteller. That's the thing I really like about this strategy. You're really taking personal stories and sharing that with the larger community without judgment. One thing that's great about this format is the storyteller has control over how the story is being told, not only with the words, but also with the images. If the person is not comfortable showing their face, they don't have to, they can still be anonymous because it's really about the story that comes out.
So throughout the entire process, each person has control of how they want their story to be portrayed. That's the thing I really like about this strategy. This is a really unique way of getting the personal truths out there about what HIV stigma really means on an individual level. By sharing these individual truths, and hopefully having this assist folks to break down some of these issues of accessing care, people learn how to interact with their family members living with HIV and breakdown stereotypes and myths about HIV.
OMH: How can something like this be replicated?
Henry: This can definitely be replicated. You can utilize this strategy with a variety of populations for a variety of issues. The beauty of it is you're having individuals share their own personal truths about that particular issue. The Center for Digital Storytelling brings their own computer lab; they have the format already set, so you just need to bring the participants. This format works well, especially with issues that are very sensitive like HIV or domestic violence or other issues that deal with the individual's protection, because folks can be anonymous. Participants don't have to put themselves out there and compromise their personal safety and comfort, but their individual stories are still out there for folks to share and learn from.