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Storytelling as social change

Eugene Ahn

Posted 9:57AM on Friday, May 09, 2008 Pacific Time
Neal Baer, co-creator of The House is Small but the Welcome is Big, recently spoke at the University of Southern California on the topic of using storytelling as a tool for social advocacy. Drawing on his experience as physician, television producer, filmmmaker, and co-creator of the project's work in Africa, Baer shared his perspective on what makes storytelling such an important part of his work in preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS.

"Stories are our life force -- our continuity with each other," Baer said. "The way you tell your story isnít important -- itís that you tell it. Tell it and your story will change someoneís life. Someone will hear it and not get infected. Tell your story and you will change the world."

Baer noted that while infection rates differ across various regions of the world, HIV/AIDS presents global consequences. Storytelling helps give shape to the global nature of the disease, and works to shift public attitudes. Influencing the public will helps organize responses to disease-spreading behavior and develop more effective treatments in fighting the disease.

Baer challenged his audience to embrace storytelling as a way to influence public opinion and be an effective social activist.

"You donít have to be a doctor to tell stories about HIV and AIDS -- or about any social issue that stirs you, moves you," he said. "Each of you can reflect on why you came today -- what private, personal story compelled you to come here? Whatever the reason, itís a good one. And each of you can draw on whatever personal story that made you come here and turn it into a public story, to be shared with others, to motivate others to learn and to take action."

Baer's comments and presentation visuals are archived online at the Institute for Photographic Empowerment website.

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What I can say to my family, and my community, is that the most important thing is love, not money. Sometimes they say that they donít visit us because they have nothing to give us. We need love, not things. Even with money you can still feel alone inside.
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