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Archive for April, 2010

* Post by Kristen Schultz Oliver, Exhale Director of Programs


In February this year, five exceptional women, all Exhale volunteers, decided to join in a new adventure: making their own digital stories about abortion and listening! For people who care about improving the public dialogue on abortion, the storytellers now have some valuable reflections and realizations about the journey they took.

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* Post by Kristen Schultz Oliver, Exhale Director of Programs

I used to think: “I can recruit anyone to do anything!”

Give me a cause I believe in, a chance to use my powers of persuasion, and I’ll have people lining up to volunteer. I have a track record of being able to motivate people to step up and contribute, and I confess that I thought that power went pretty far. I have a lot of experience “rounding up the troops” and naturally I thought that applied to most volunteer opportunities.

Imagine my surprise this January when I discovered that I was coming up empty-handed in recruiting volunteers for a new project at Exhale: a digital storytelling workshop where participants would be expected to share intimate details about their personal experiences with abortion, and their experiences of listening to callers on our after-abortion talkline.

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At our private screening of five digital stories, we asked the audience members – friends and family of the storytellers and a few close allies of Exhale – to share their thoughts, feelings, questions and concerns as they watched the stories.  Many of the questions they posed were discussed and answered in the Q & A with the storytellers.

Here is a sampling of audience responses:

“The difference in the way the stories were told – some explicit, some not even mentioning the word abortion, really struck me as reflective of how abortion is – different for every single person. The power partially lay in not juxtaposing, but grouping them… showed what abortion is. Beautiful, brave, and loved the digital aspect – the film medium really mesmerized me. Thank you to the storytellers.”

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The Center for Digital Storytelling, based in Berkeley, California, is a nonprofit community arts organization rooted in the craft of personal storytelling. The CDS mission is to assist youth and adults from around the world in creating and sharing meaningful stories from their lives, as short digital videos. Since 1993, the Center has been developing unique workshop methods that blend oral history, autobiographical writing, and participatory digital media production. CDS has partnered with organizations in well over 50 countries to document and distribute more than 10,000 stories and is recognized globally as a leader in training, capacity building, and innovation on digital storytelling in the education, health, and community development sectors.

Silence Speaks, which since 2000 has been one of the Center’s key international efforts, supports the telling and witnessing of stories that all too often remain unspoken — of surviving and thriving in the wake of violence and abuse, armed conflict, or displacement … of challenging stigma or marginalization related to health and sexuality. Our Projects blend oral history, popular education, and participatory media production methods adapted from the CDS core workshop model. We modify the methods used to accommodate languages, literacies, and technologies in a given setting and emphasize reflection on the implications of bringing sensitive personal narratives into the public sphere. Following careful informed consent processes, stories are shared locally and globally, as strategic tools for training, community mobilization, and policy advocacy to promote well being, gender equality, and human rights.

Exhale partnered with Silence Speaks to produce a digital storytelling workshop on abortion stories and abortion listening.  The February 2010 workshop was facilitated by Amy Hill, a digital video instructor/producer and public health/community development consultant. Her twelve-year history of involvement with women’s health and violence prevention programs led Amy in 2000 to found Silence Speaks Digital Storytelling, which blends oral history, participatory mediamaking, and popular education in workshops to support the telling of stories that all too often remain unspoken. Her wealth of national and international experience with this project has led her to specialize in the ethical implications of producing and sharing sensitive personal narratives and in modifying digital storytelling methods to accommodate multiple languages and scarce technology resources.

I interviewed Amy about her experiences with digital storytelling, stigmatized issues, and abortion.

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Visit RH Reality Cast and start listening around 8 min, 20 seconds.  We discuss Abortion Wellbeing Month, Post-abortion counseling and why the pro-choice movement needs a platform for mental health and abortion.

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* This post was first published on RH Reality Check.

We are a nation deeply divided over abortion. The conflict is so bad most people refer to it as our nation’s “Abortion Wars.” Carole Joffe, author of “Dispatches from the Abortion Wars: The Costs of Fanaticism to Doctors, Patients and the Rest of Us” writes that our abortion wars have “proved costly for American society as a whole, causing a degradation of our political culture.”  Yet, she lauds “women who seek abortions and the men and who women provide them [as] resourceful and committed combatants” while Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, refers to herself and her counterparts as the “postmenopausal militia.”

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Serving on Exhale’s board provides a platform for each of us to develop and engage our strengths as we never imagined. Our members are all about midway through our second, three-year terms on the board, and in that time we’ve seen the organization mature from a local SF-Bay Area talkline service, to a national talkline whose volunteer and staff leaders set the tone for a new pro-voice dialogue on post-abortion wellness for women and their loved ones.

Over the years, as a board, we’ve matured too.

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