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 Laurence Gilliot on January 12, 2009 at 1:42pm
Thank you for sharing this journey with us :-)
I have learned so much from you when we talked about these interview in Chiangmai. I'm so happy that others on this platform can be inspired by your experience now!

One things that you explained to me in terms of 'techniques' is the timeline. If I remember well, you draw a line on a sheet of paper, representing the life of the interviewed woman. Then, you ask her to show on the line the most important moments of her life. Is that right?

Comment by Francien Scholten on January 11, 2009 at 9:59pm
Dear MariJo,

I am glad that I became a member and can connect with people who have similar thoughts, doubts and struggles and rewards and want to share. I loved to read your story what has happened once you let it go, once you felt that you can let it go. The reward was great, people started telling their life stories, they felt they owned it in an atmosphere that it became a healing process. I love to hear more about this…

In a few weeks, I will spend quite some time with older people who have lost children/grandchildren because of AIDS or who are HIV positive themselves. I will remember your story….


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