On a hot August afternoon, 12 AVAC fellows from all over the African diaspora including Kenya, Nigeria, Zambia and Zimbabwe, converged in Johannesburg, South Africa where they were greeted by a team of Moth instructors. AVAC is an organization dedicated to global advocacy for HIV prevention and one of the cornerstones of AVAC is their fellowship program which trains emerging leaders in advocacy and activism to execute creative, context-specific projects focused on HIV prevention research.
As Moth instructors, our goal was to provide these fellows with the tools to craft and tell their stories. By the end of the workshop, we were all so much more aware of the transformative power of story, but also saw ourselves as part of a much larger global community that will hopefully continue to grow.
Here are some of our reflections on our time in South Africa:
Before the start of the AVAC community workshop I was a bit anxious. The last time I had given significant thought about AIDS was in school. At that time, the closest I had come to knowing anyone with the virus was basketball legend Magic Johnson (who I didn’t actually know). When I learned that some of the fellows were living with HIV, while others were sex workers who were at high risk, everything became so much more real. These weren’t statistics I was reading, or a policy report- these would be people on the front line, and some were coming from countries where AIDS is a pandemic. So going into it, I was humbled that I had been chosen as an instructor for the team, and I wanted to make sure that I was effectively listening and coaching the stories of those who will live with a much different reality than my own.
- Dawn J. Fraser, storytelling instructor
This was my first time being involved in a Moth Community Workshop so almost everything came as a surprise to me. I was wide-eyed in the face of the passion, humor, and complete lack of hesitation I encountered amongst this group.
These participants were here to talk about serious matters and inspire serious work. Given the weight of this workshop, the lightness, ease, and natural fluidity I witnessed were probably the biggest surprise. From the first minute we all gathered, every single participant had no problem playing warm up games, yelling silly things, shaking it up, and having fun. There were no brakes or holds-- everyone was ready and open to whatever came their way. The result was beautiful; a natural flow where each story, insight, and game naturally fed into the next and created a wonderful and new community.
- Nadine Tadros, Producer
One challenge I faced as an instructor was working with a participant who had lived through extensive, unspeakable trauma and tragedy that formed the backdrop of her story. As we were aiming for stories 5 minutes in length, the task of communicating the trauma was daunting. Ultimately the storyteller provided the answer: it was the process of healing, and those who helped her through it, that she most wanted to tell us about. These became the focal-points of her story.
- Larry Rosen, Global Community Program Manager
“Of all the final showcases I have been a part of, this one definitely left me riveted and truly in awe of the human spirit.”
The final share on Wednesday morning was nothing short of an emotional roller coaster. The participants came to the stage when they were ready to tell their stories, instead of assigning the order or pulling names from a hat. It was amazing to see how the stories naturally flowed in a way that felt just right. Some of the stories shared included horrific experiences that left me speechless and in tears. Others were more light hearted, yet were just as impactful, leaving me thinking about my own prejudices and biases. At one point, the motherly figure of the group walked up to a storyteller as she started to shed tears, to give her a tissue, and in a way reaffirm that we all had her back. Of all the final showcases I have been a part of, this one definitely left me riveted and truly in awe of the human spirit.
I want the world to hear these stories – but even more than that, I want these people to go on telling them. The sheer power and vital impact of sharing personal stories has never been so evident to me. I dearly hope our AVAC friends will continue to share, and that we can be there to support them.
One final thought: My family is from the Caribbean islands of Trinidad and Tobago, and as a first generation American, I’ve always been intrigued with the cultural similarities and differences of people with African heritage. In my group was a man from Zimbabwe who identified as a Rastafarian, and wore his hair in dreadlocks. In his story, he mentioned how reggae music from Jamaica played a significant role in the development of his political consciousness, and quoted legends including Bob Marley and Morgan Heritage. It was amazing to meet someone from the continent who identified with a tradition that originated in the islands- every other Rasta I had met was from the US or the Caribbean. It reminded me of our shared journeys, the power of music, and that you don’t have to come from a place of power or prosperity to inspire and engage with people all over the world.