7 June 2013
South African teenagers have opened up about their experiences living with HIV/AIDS, thanks to an imaginative new collaboration between Cardiff University's School of English, Communication and Philosophy and health education charity Whizzkids United.
Dr Lisa El Refaie, School of English, Communication and Philosophy's Centre for Language and Communication Research, worked with South African charity Whizzkids United (WKU), to produce a brightly coloured comic book in which teenagers tell their own stories to support HIV/AIDS education.
Since 2010, Whizzkids United has been highly successful in using football training as a metaphor for educating South African teenagers about the risks of HIV/AIDS (35,000 graduates of the programme so far). The targeted young people live in areas where up to 60% of adults are infected. But WKU was keen to find other ways of reaching teenagers, and of ensuring that those taking part in their football programmes found their way to the WKU Health Academy where they can be tested for HIV and receive counselling and information.
Lisa got involved with the charity because of her research into the use of metaphor to talk about difficult topics, how teenagers read cartoons and comics, and the role that comics play in telling life stories.
Lisa said: "I suggested WKU might run workshops on how to draw comics, as a way to encourage the teenagers to explore and express their own experiences and feelings, and create educational messages relevant to other young people in their community. The results were remarkable, with the teenagers telling some extremely moving stories for the first time."
Now a booklet has been produced of the best comics created by the teenagers at an advanced workshop. The booklet was coloured and formatted by award-winning British comics artist, Stephen Marchant.
The charity's founder and director, Marcus McGilvray, was deeply moved by the success of the workshop, which enabled the teenagers to talk for the first time about their experiences of living with HIV/AIDS. Speaking about the young members of the workshop teams, who didn't know anyone else there was HIV positive, he said: "One of the most amazing things was when they opened up and realised they all had the same problem, having HIV… There was a surge of emotion and relief when they found out they were all HIV positive."
Marcus added that the counsellors present at the workshop had been surprised at which issues were most significant for the teenagers. They were much less concerned about the risk of dying than of being ostracised by their friends--something that comes out strongly in the comics. As a result, WKU will be developing new support and counselling that addresses this fear.