HIV/AIDS cultural activism: digital story collecting among migrant workers in swaziland (015)


December 04, 2007

Thandiwe Dlamini’s fierce fight against HIV and AIDS is compromised by the abject lack of resources and medical personnel and the stigmatization of her community in Swaziland. However, with the love and support of her employer and colleagues, and through prayer and faith, she considers herself living testimony to the fact that there is indeed life after HIV infection. Language: siSwati…Subtitles: English


another excellent example of multimedia cultural activism in assembling a body of compelling anecdotal knowledge. a discussion of the project by clodagh miskelly, panos, london, follows



A Snapshot of Life
by Clodagh Miskelly. Panos London
May 1, 2009

“Migrants who tell their own stories defy the common labels of victim or scrounger and provide a powerful counterpoint to mainstream reporting…”

Based on this year’s International Day for Sharing Life Stories (May 16 2009) theme, Migration and Refugees, this article discusses the nature, function, and collection of migrant life stories as lifelines and as public information, in contrast with their stories as official, legal evidence in their struggle for permission to stay in their new location. Migrant stories are not always told by the migrant and, as indicated here, sometimes become propagandised and politicised by anti-immigrant factions. However, “there are projects working to collect the stories of migrants by migrants, be these to celebrate or reflect on and come to terms with experience, have their voices heard in the media or to influence attitudes and work for social change.”

This document is based on a digital story collecting project of Panos London and the African HIV Policy Network (AHPN). According to the author, who has collected migrant digital stories, this project was with a group of African migrants who are living with HIV and were at risk of being removed to their country of origin where treatment is not necessarily accessible, affordable, or available. “They wanted to make digital stories to help people understand their contribution to life in the UK [United Kingdom] as well as the impact of threatened removal on their health and families. These stories are being used by the Destination Unknown campaign to give an insight into these people’s lives.”

Digital stories, as described here, are composed of 2-5 minute digital videos with a personal scripted narrative soundtrack and still images, which are produced using a method developed by the Center for Digital Storytelling. Participants write a script, record, photograph, and edit their own stories during a workshop. “At the heart of this process is the story-circle where participants tell their stories, listen to other participants’ reactions to them, and can develop and refine the narrative in a mutually supportive environment….The resulting stories are always to some extent a collaboration, they are shaped by the process and facilitation, the format and what is happening in people’s lives at the time. However, the intention is for participants to have control over the content, form and also how and where the story is published and viewed. This can lead to stories that challenge preconceptions or provide a different insight into how an “issue” is lived.”

The stories produced with AHPN, for example, communicate the impact of the threat of removal on people’s lives, health, and families. “The purpose of telling has implications for what gets told and what gets left out of a digital story, just as it does with journalism and legal cases. Digital stories are subjective and usually heartfelt. They don’t make claims to be balanced arguments but this does not diminish their value as ways of helping to understand issues of social justice or change.”

The author points to the fact that some migrant stories decide someone’s future, but that the migrants should not be limited to telling only that story, and they should not be directed to tell what a facilitator might think of as their migration story. “They might well want to represent other aspects of their lives beyond their country of origin and legal status…. When given the opportunity people have created digital stories which free them from the narrow labels of migrant or asylum seeker, ‘scrounger’ or victim and instead allow them to be seen as mothers, dance teachers and committed volunteers; stories that convey passion and achievement.”

The author concludes that “[a] digital story cannot provide the richness and breadth of an oral testimony, nor the facts and detail of a legal testimony. But digital stories do provide carefully crafted glimpses of people’s lives and thoughts and experiences as they see them at a certain point in time. As such they can be a powerful counterpoint to other mainstream, or political, narratives and so act as an important means of stimulating dialogue and influencing change.”

Panos London
9 White Lion Street
N1 9PD
United Kingdom (UK)
Tel: 44 0 20 7278 1111
Fax: 44 0 278 0345
Panos London website

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