Anyone who reads this blog should have figured out that I love
stories. I love telling stories, I love listening to stories, and I
have learned to practice medicine by figuring out what a patient's
story is and how we can move that story closer to health and
I never thought that majoring in English literature would be such a
great preparation for being a doctor, but it turns out that the
basic English major skills - looking closely at a story and
figuring out what is really going on - are exactly the kinds of
things that a doctor needs to do. And if I can share the stories of
my families living in impoverished, rural Kenya with a broader
audience, then all the better.
My newest research project is focused around stories - how we help
HIV-infected children understand that HIV is part of their personal
story. In fact, we have named the study "HADITHI", which
means "story" in Swahili. HADITHI also stands for Helping
AMPATH Disclose Information and Talk about HIV Infections.
We want to use stories to help families through the complicated
process of telling their children that they have HIV and to help
children grapple with this new piece of their own stories. We
have been collecting stories from parents, grandparents, and
children that illustrate this process. Stories about how the
children started HIV treatment, stories about how parents worry
about telling their child that they have HIV, stories about what it
means for a child to wrestle with this weighty diagnosis.
This week, we've begun the very exciting process of capturing
these stories on video so that they can be shared with families in
Kenya over and over. We are filming actors telling the stories of
our children and parents, and then we will be creating a series of
videos that can be used as part of the counseling sessions and
support groups in our clinics here in Kenya. A counselor can show a
family the video of a mother telling her story about how afraid she
was to disclose to her daughter, and then that story can become the
starting point for discussing the other family's own story and
challenges. I think this will be an incredibly useful tool for
guiding families through the process of talking with children about
HIV. I think stories will help us do that.
I am very thankful that we were able to bring in someone with the
expertise to make this vision possible (this kind of story-telling
is not in my skill set!) I was able to collaborate with a filmmaker
on faculty at Indiana University who is now here in Kenya with us
to shoot these films for the HADITHI project. Hiring actors and
preparing the scripts has been a lot of work in between everything
else to launch this project, but I am incredibly excited seeing
this part of the project get off the ground.
Even as we wrestle with power outages, equipment failures, reading
lines, and all the usual challenges of getting something done in
Kenya, it is so exciting seeing these stories transformed into this
new form of art, into videos that can be shared with and helpful
for our families in Kenya.