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the forgotten children of africa.

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This week we were asked to read an article about how storytelling is applicable in different disciplines; I chose to read a report from a study performed in South Africa titled The Forgotten Children of Africa: Voicing HIV and Aids Orphans’ Stories of Bereavement: A Narrative Approach.

The study was published in 2005 and follows AIDS orphaned children, focusing particularly on three children who have chosen traditional Zulu names for anonymity- S’thembiso (Faithful) who is 10 years old and his sister Nobuhle (Beautiful) who is 7 years old, and Nomusa (Graceful) who is 17 years old from another family. The author introduces the reader to the tradition of Zulu culture and the great place that storytelling holds within the culture. I found it quite beautiful how stories are not only told by the speaker but that the audience becomes part of the story and it grows and develops from the interactions between the audience and storyteller. Stories are used to explain every aspect of life, from birth to death and this study used that tool to examine the bereavement process of these children.

Rather than taking a Western approach to understand the process that the children go through after the death of both of their parents, it was important that the researchers focused on Zulu culture and traditions to let the children express themselves as they felt comfortable. As the report explains, although all children worldwide follow the same general cognitive and psychological development stages- the environment in which they are raised is a huge influence to how quickly they progress from stage to stage and in order to fully understand what the orphans go through this needs to be taken into account.

The most interesting part of this report is the excerpts from letters written by the children and transcripts of questions asked and the children’s responses. One of the most fascinating quotes refers to S’thembiso and Nobuhle’s younger 3 year old brother and his understanding of where his dead mother has gone:

Q: Another reason why you love your younger brother… what does he talk about?
A: He always asks me where our mommy is.
Q: And what do you tell him then?
A: I tell him that she is in Johannesburg.
Q: Does he cry when he asks where your mommy is?
A: No, he doesn’t cry.

At the brother’s stage of development, he shows that he is unable to fully understand the permanence of death or even the fact that his parents have died at all. At 7 years old, S’thembiso shows a developed understanding and fear of death, using Zulu storytelling to put his fear into words:

Q: Maybe the sadness scares you?
A: I feel afraid and then I think of an izumu.
Q: How big is this monster/animal?
A: A lion!
Q: A lion- do you think it is a lion that took your mommy away?
A:Yes, I am scared of the lion [death], because it might take me too.

Nomusa, 17 years old, expresses feelings of loss and grievance- not only for her parents but for all experiences associated with them:

When mother has harvested, father goes with the vehicle to Muden to order potatoes and cabbage and tomatoes to sell at Pomeroy. When they were sold he comes back bringing clothes and schoolbooks and something nice.

Although the report doesn’t go into full detail of the healing process with the children, it shows a few letters between the children and the researchers showing how the researchers use the children’s stories as a method of communicating the deeper issues behind their grieving.

Overall I found this read fascinating and would suggest it to others to read. For being a report on a study it reads fairly easily and engages the reader. I feel connected to these children just from reading the short excerpts of their stories and wish the author would have given more information on how the children changed or developed during the study. This article is a great example of how storytelling and a better understanding of the patient, can provide a great resource in the healing of emotional scars.

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