How to use creative storytelling and communication to combat stigma

Written by Ondiege Matthew, Dance Into Space Foundation, Kenya

Please describe the problems your beneficiaries face when communicating about their SRHR.

People with disabilities have difficulty in trying to surmount all the stigma of disability that surrounds them before they can talk honestly and candidly about another taboo subject like sexuality. They are faced with multiple layers of barriers because of their disability, are not empowered enough and they lack the courage or self-esteem to share matters of personal privacy regarding their sexuality.

How do you work on this problem?

At Dance Into Space foundation (DIS) we use creative tools as a strategy to ‘break the ice’ at the start of conversations around ‘taboo’ topics.

These tools help to liberate the individual from the yoke of shame and assist in identifying the issues at family and community levels. Some of the tools comprise of true story telling, physical and psychological games and exercises done in groups and as individuals.

Exposing the individual to his or her community by encouraging them to participate in public presentations or performances can also instill confidence and motivate them to view themselves as change agents and role models.

What did you achieve and what changes did you make?

Individuals have been able to participate and discuss matters of sexuality candidly without any cultural, social or religious barriers. This exposed their unique abilities to their community who, in turn, appreciated and recognised them.

The community responded with enthusiasm and became concerned about the basic rights of persons with disabilities. They also got deeply involved in the conversations around the reproductive health issues and sexuality matters of persons with disabilities.

The exposure raised the interest of local authorities like the Chief, who became involved in the mobilisation efforts and even offered his camp as a venue for more awareness and advocacy outreaches.

What did you learn from this experience?

When the general community, health service providers, local authorities and especially care givers and family members of people with disabilities are limited in knowledge and are also ignorant on their sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR), the person with disability will also be limited in SRHR knowledge.

Therefore, they may never achieve holistic health. However, when given an open space to express themselves, persons with disabilities can use their creative abilities to enlighten their communities, to educate them on SRHR and in turn benefit from their knowledge so that they achieve their full potential.

What are your tips for someone facing the same or similar issues?

  • People with disabilities should tell their own stories. We only help to highlight and facilitate the medium used to communicate their issues and provide a forum for addressing them to the right authority
  • Employ creative means like games and role play to increase self-confidence and to extract true stories
  • Partner with community-based structures to help facilitate public acceptance
  • Plan longer and start early, for it is always a slow process marred with a myriad of challenges.

Ondiege Matthew, Dance Into Space Foundation, Kenya

Ondiege Matthew has been at the forefront of community development dance arts in East Africa since the 1990’s. He is the CEO of the Dance Into Space Foundation (DISF), an organisation which exists to increase the appreciation, practice, and training of inclusive, mixed ability dance arts. As the artistic director he fundraises for the productions, advocacy, and rights awareness projects. Ondiege has contributed an article titled ‘Breaking Barriers with performing arts’ in Every Body Matters publication of good practices for inclusion of people with disabilities (PWDs) in sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR).