Empowering Health Through Photography and Self Expression
HIV is a leading cause of death for adolescents in Africa, where many teens are unaware of their HIV status or are not on treatment. For young people with HIV, the key to staying healthy is getting antiretroviral treatment and staying on it. Unfortunately, adolescents often shy away from health facilities where they don't feel comfortable. And if they don't have the support they need at home or are worried about others learning about their HIV infection, they are at greater risk for abandoning treatment.
To keep these young people living with HIV in care, we need to reach out to them in ways that allow them to express themselves as they discover who they are. For a certain group of youths living with HIV in Kisumu, Kenya, a photography workshop led by ICAP at Columbia University opened the door to a new world of self-expression.
The 17 young people, aged 15 to 21, who participated in the workshop in April of 2018, attend the adolescent HIV clinic at the Jaramogi Oginga Odinga Teaching and Referral Hospital (JOOTRH), a facility that ICAP supports. For them, photography was a natural way to explore the journeys on which they find themselves — journeys that are often painful, frequently illuminating, and anything but dull.
Inspired and excited, they turned their lenses on their families, their communities, and themselves. Every day, on the long trips between their homes and the hospital, they transformed their unique perspectives into intimate portrayals of domestic scenes and moving revelations of their inner lives. They reviewed and responded to one another's work with openness, enthusiasm, and generosity. And they soaked up advice from the visiting artists who joined us.
We feel privileged to share these beautiful, authentic images with you. These young people carry a heavy burden through their lives. But their photographs, and the way they went about creating them, leave no doubt about their inner strength. We hope this experience inspired them to pursue their dreams and strengthened their resolve to confront any difficulties they may face. It certainly was an inspiration for us and we hope to bring workshops like these to other youth living with HIV in Kenya and beyond. After seeing the world through the eyes of these young artists, we are even more determined to do whatever it takes to ensure that they enjoy healthy, long, and productive lives.
Elaine Abrams, MD, Senior Research Director, ICAP at Columbia University
Amy Bedik, Photographer and Workshop Lead