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To some of you I have talked about a project I have put in place 8 months ago with a couple of coleagues. The title of the project is "Healing through our stories: women constructing the historial memory of HIV" and it is about the storytelling, about the capacity we all have to tell our own stories and the healing power of those stories.

It is 10 year now I have started to use folck and fairy tales as a starting point to a deeper reflection on who we are and how we relate to others. I used it first to raise gender issues among women but the tool has grown with time and what I found out is that telling our own story is a healing process in itself.

The project consist in interviewing 20 HIV positive women from different places in Spain and we started by trying to define a battery of questions to be used as the backbone of the interview. When doing this work there was a lot of concern that we will not be asking the right questions, that if we were not "clever" enough, the interview will be spoiled and the whole project will be a failure.

At a certain point we started to see that focusing in what will be our intervention in the interviewit was a mistake. We relaxed and connected with our deep confidence in what the women had to say by themselves and stop thinking in terms of "success" or "failure". We kept to a small list of questions that we used as a guiding thread to be pulled very softly in order to help the women to walk through their lives safely.

This was my first insight in the real power of the project. It helped me to let go and trust myself (first) as a supportive guide and then trust women in finding their own way to "tell" themselves.

Then, the time to do the actual interviews arrived. And there came my second insight. Whenever I was able to release the urge to have control over the interview something magic entered the room. I could feel how the woman in front of me was more confident, more open and, yes, happier. I could feel that she was conscious of my lack of prejudice, expectations, control... And the more I could let go of my fear the warmer and freer the conversation. It is amazing when you have the opportunity to experience trust, to act it. Most of the times we are so afraid of failure that we try to control everything we do and it is very difficult to release control. Specially because you are also afraid of being considered unprofessional or incompetent. So what I feel it is necessary is to jump into trusting yourself and your principles and then, authomatically, you find within yourself your confidence in others.

After 20 wonderful face-to-face conversations with 20 wonderful women, and an intense work on my side in trying to just be "present", fully, attentively and non-judgementally present, I could see the results in the quality of the stories that all these women have told us. And in the way I feel about myself and the project. The project is not "mine", it is just something that happened in my presence.

We are in the middle of the editing process, again trying to listen to what the women said, respecting and honouring the words that have been said. And I am still processing all the learning that I had the privilege to obtain from my intervention in this project. There is so much learning involved that I am sure that it will take me months to come to terms with it.

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Comment by Olivia Munoru on July 12, 2012 at 5:04pm

"The project is not "mine", it is just something that happened in my presence."

MariJo, as always, your words stick with me because there's so much meaning behind them, and so much experience behind the meaning. 

I appreciate so much that you shared this with us. There's a lot to be said about giving someone "space" to share their story, as you did with the women. 

Your insight on control is also interesting, I can really imagine the joy  you felt when you discovered that by letting go of control, magic could occur. In fact, before I read your story, I was feeling very nervous about some facilitation I have to do next week, with a new group of people. But your story has reminded me that if I relax and release my fears, the journey will flow easily and participants will feel confident, comfortable and comfortable to share freely. Thank you for reminding me of this. 

Comment by Rituu B. Nanda on June 29, 2012 at 6:30pm

Some responses to the blog from India Civil Society group on Facebook.


Jaffer Inamdar Its practical way of healing as experienced
Comment by MariJo on June 29, 2012 at 3:23pm

What a wonderful work that of Dulwiche Centre! I always find it like magic when I discover others expressing so beautifully what I have been struggling to say.

Thank you for leading me to their website, where I can find so much to learn.

Warm regards! 

Comment by Kristin Bodiford on June 29, 2012 at 1:48pm

Very lovely MariJo. In reading your post, I think of what Barbara Wingard from Dulwiche Centre says about telling our stories in ways that make us stronger.  When you say "respecting and honouring the words that have been said" I think of those who are listening as having a role of stewards of people's words and stories. That in the sharing we are participating in an ongoing construction of meaning. Thanks for sharing! 

Comment by MariJo on February 11, 2010 at 8:15pm
Thank you for your appreciative words, Liz.
About your idea towards Viena AIDS Conference, I think it is fantastic and I would not mind adding my experience to anyone willing to do something on that. I truly believe that listening is one of the most important tools in relating to others... More than than, it is as important when relating to ourselves.
Comment by Liz Tremlet on February 11, 2010 at 12:42pm
Truly inspiring. I hope some of these techniques can be applied to collecting more stories across Europe and Central Asia ahead of the Vienna AIDS Conference and that by sharing them the situation of women living with HIV in this region can be known. I am sure we can all learn some life skills from the experiences you shared about being non judgmental and being good listeners.

Thanks Marijo.
Comment by M.L. Prabakar on January 20, 2009 at 7:30am
Dear MariJo,

It is inspiring to know about your experience and the learning you had gained and now transfered to me and to many like minded people in this platform. I was really touched by the aspect you shared on how difficult it is to let go the control of the process and giving it to the ones who are actually sharing to come up with their views. Yes it is tough indeed. A structured process gives us a safety net so that, we are sure that we have covered the areas we wanted. If a structured one is adopted there would have been a loss of the richness you had experienced in the sharing that is the opening up your own perspectives and believes and the magical effect on the person who had shared by way of healing. It is wonderful for me to see how much influence it had on you this process had increased your confidence and mine too. MariJo, you have also given me a useful learning that our principles of professionalism needs to be relooked. I had been fighting within myself (my emotional self and Intellectual self) a part of me says that the concept of professionalism needs to be relooked and it is not helping to the extend it is supposed to do. It differs on certian areas and does not fall in line with the community's expectation. Another part of me says professionalism is different from community life and expectations and as a professional you need to be different form the community. Now I have some evidence to say it needs to be relooked and formulated with certain new aspects as it helped you, and had added richness to the process. Being there for the person, being facilitative and non directive, offering support during the process and also being accountable to offer it far beyond the period of discussions are some points i really liked about your work. The tool you had used is interesting. I am planning to do some work on understanding the phases of growth of some people who have made significant impact in their own lives and of others. I will try a similar process. Many many thanks for the sharing. I am also eager to hear about what they have to say in the meeting to be held in May.

With warm regards,

Comment by Abraham Mutluri on January 13, 2009 at 10:15am
Dear MariJo

Thank you for sharing your expeience and process of the story telling project..It is very helpful to us to learn new tools to increase the competence in the communities. I am glad that i became a member in ACP and learning a lot from the experienced persons like you.

Most of the time i am working with People/ Children Living with HIV/AIDS. Now few of the people coming forword to share their life story with communities to save the others. But they need some guidence and direction to share their life stories in the communities. Stigma is also a problom to share their stories. it is also giving the dare to other PLHA to increase the psychological support and life span.

I used a tool " Life Line" in Participatory community Assessment / Review in Andhra Pradesh, India. It is very useful tool to PLHA to share their life stories. They will give the correct information through that tool.

Thank you very much MariJo for sharing your experience with all the flatform.

With Regards

Abraham Mutluri
Andhra Pradesh - India
Comment by Rituu B. Nanda on January 13, 2009 at 9:54am
Dear Marijo,

Hi! You are a part of an exciting project. Congratulations. I would like to do a similar project in India too. Your methods of initiating and closing an interview are excellent. I would like to apply them when (hope its not too far in the future!) I try my hand at this. I have also found that writing down one's experiences is therapeutic.

Best wishes for your meeting.

Warm regards,

Comment by MariJo on January 12, 2009 at 3:39pm
Thank you Francien for your appreciation. I am also very happy that I can be part of a community of people with whom I can share my process to become a different type of "professional", so that we can create together new definitions to those roles that have been constraining us all for so long.

And yes, Laurence, as a starting point for the interview we proposed the woman to do a small exercices called "The line of your life", to just reflect for five minutes and write down in a sheet of paper a few events, experiences or moments in life that she considered as corner stones in her life.

We did this so that the woman could get inmersed in her life on herself and not by our "intromission" with questions. Some times, this exercise made our questions almost unnecesary because the woman just started narrating those things that she thought shaped her life.

It is a very simple exercise but when dealing with the content of a whole life it was very useful to help the woman to get started with those things in the walk she was to make around her life. Some of them told us that they have never thought that certain things were there until they wrote them in the line of their lives: they just poured naturally when thinking what was significant in their lives.

Then, through the interview they were free to come back to those events or not, but most of them used them as the backbone of their narratives.

So we constated that the exercise was useful as a symbolic starting point and it helped those who were a bit nervous about what the interview migth be or who were cautious about their "performance".

There is also another symbolic act we introduced to close the interview: we were aware that dedicating 3 hours to literally dig in one's past is something that could have an impact in the next days to the interview, we wanted to offer them the opportunity to admit that as a matter of fact and also the possibility that they seek some support both from their groups or from me, if they thought they need it. So we closed the interview by reminding them that what they have just made was important and deserved some attention and by offering them a small notebook where they could write down any thought, emotion, proposal or whatever they migh have in relation to the interview so they could share them with the rest of participants at the meeting we are planning when the book and the DVD are ready, before we take them to the public.

I look forward to learning what they have to share at that meeting that will take place around May.


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