Doing Storytelling

What is Storytelling?

Storytelling is a traditional part of most cultures and involves the use of words, art, and sound to describe an event or series of events. Stories are told as a form of entertainment, education, and cultural preservation - they also instill values and morals. Originally most stories are thought to have been told orally using sound, expressions, gestures and later language. There is also a great deal of evidence that shows that early storytelling was expressed through drawing on cave walls, tree trunks, and other inanimate objects. With the many improvements in technology, modern storytelling encompasses a wide range of media including written work, recorded tapes, theatrical performances, and film - as well as the traditional methods.

For general storytelling resources, go here.

Why Use Storytelling for HIV/AIDS Education?

Storytelling is a tradition common to most cultures for education, entertainment, and spreading information. As a result, it is more easily understood and accepted by community members (that is, it is a culturally relevant tool). Storytelling also allows for a great deal of creativity on the part of both the authors of the stories and in how the stories are presented to the public. This flexibility can help a group adapt their stories or their methods to different regions.

Much like theatre, storytelling can help groups of people transcend the usual social restrictions that sometimes come with talking about a sensitive issue like HIV/AIDS and help them be more receptive to information and facts. It can also help those who have been affected by HIV/AIDS tell their stories - either by telling them to a third party or by telling them themselves.

That there are so many different ways to tell a story also gives storytelling the potential to reach a wide audience. Stories can be told in public areas, clinics, schools, over the radio, and in many other places. This makes storytelling a great way to spread information.


    ✓ Facts can be clearly presented
    ✓ Creative and entertaining
    ✓ Reaches a wide audience


    x May lack credibility in the eyes of the public (That is, it may be thought of as just another form of entertainment which doesn't follow the norms of society.)

How to Use Storytelling for HIV/AIDS Education

There are many different forms of storytelling. This guide to storytelling will be limited to a general discussion of some helpful tips and hints. Some of the different forms of storytelling (examples: books/novels, street theatre, radio, etc) are described in detail in their own how-to guides on this site. For specific information on these methods please see the heading for the specific arts medium you are looking for in the how-to guide section of this site.

How your group approaches storytelling depends on the purpose the group is trying to achieve. For example if the group is trying to spread information to as many people as possible, public readings or radio broadcasts or pre-written stories with specific morals/messages is probably the best route to take. If, on the other hand, the goal of the group is to provide support and education for communities affected by HIV/AIDS a more interactive approach is probably better.

Presentation Approach

This approach is pretty straightforward. The group takes stories and chooses from a multitude of creative ways of how to present them. At a school, in a square, over the radio, it really depends on the resources available for you. Props and costumes are also a great way to make storytelling more fun and less intrusive. For example, a single person reading a story from a book comes off much differently than a storyteller who uses carved wooden animals to illustrate the point of the story. It takes a little bit of harshness out of the message, without altering the effectiveness, allowing the audience to become more receptive and less on guard.

Interactive Approach

This approach requires a little more time. It is more interactive with the community. It can take the form of getting people to compose their own stories using prompts or of helping people talk about the stories that are presented to them by members of your group discussing the situations of the characters, the events in the story, and so on. The interactive approach can also be a combination of both ideas.

For links to ideas for prompts and how to get people involved in the creative process see:

Examples of Groups that have used Storytelling for HIV/AIDS Education

Here are two examples of how other groups have approached HIV/AIDS with storytelling:

Silk-Road Radio

The Silk-Road Radio was first broadcast in Tajikistan in 1998 and in Uzbekistan in 1999. It takes stories written by UNESCO "Tales from the Silk Road" and other creative story lines that combine education and entertainment and then broadcasts the stories on Silk-Road Radio. Silk-Road Radio consists of two radio soap operas. The Silk Road Soap targets a mature, rural audience and goes out twice a week, and City Soap, which targets urban youth, goes out three times a week. Apart form HIV/AIDS and drug abuse, the soap has tackled such issues as domestic violence, legal and human rights, restrictions on travel between neighboring countries, making profit form farming and much more.

For more information see:

Storytelling in the Waiting Room, HIV/AIDS Awareness Program in Limpopo Villages

From November 2004, an HIV/AIDS awareness project was implemented in the Greater Tzaneen sub-district in Limpopo (population 400,000), one of the poorest, rural provinces in South Africa. The project entitled "Storytelling in the Waiting Room" consists of a storyteller who playfully promotes openness by telling educative stories about HIV/AIDS in clinic waiting rooms. The aim of this project is to raise HIV/AIDS awareness among the people visiting the primary health care clinics and to reduce the stigma in the communities and health care facilities. There are currently 14 stories. Topics include but are not limited to: your friend with HIV is still your friend; don't blame children whose parents have dies of AIDS; sex with a virgin doesn't cure AIDS; and ARV versus traditional remedies. The stories are inspired by traditional African storytelling. Wooden carved animals represent the main characters and are used as the stories' illustration.

For more information see:

Storytelling Bibliography