Because She Cares: Poetically re-telling ACB women's stories of HIV caring work
Updated: Mar 21, 2022
A few years ago, when I attended an annual meeting at an AIDS service organization (ASO), one of the support workers got up to speak about her experiences of HIV service work as an African woman living with HIV. As she talked about her journey from continental Africa to North America, from being a service user to becoming an HIV service worker, one sentence in her story stood out to me:
I work at this ASO because I care about my community.
Because she cares. What does it mean for her to work at an ASO because she cares? Who are her communities and its members for whom she cares? What does it mean for her to engage in HIV service work, as a person living with HIV and as a racialized immigrant woman living in Canada? How did her temporal and geographical journeys bring her to HIV service work? How did HIV service work become works of caring?
As I reflected on these questions, I realized that underlying them were assumptions about HIV-related engagement, caring work, and employment grounded in familiar narratives, some say dominant narratives, of social justice mobilization, work participation, and civic engagement. Narratives of work that also articulated societal values and corresponding roles and responsibilities. But were these assumptions grounded in my colleague’s sensemaking of caring work as an African woman living with HIV?
What did working because she cares mean FOR HER?
To answer these questions, I decided to conduct the Because She Cares study. I invited ten (10) African immigrant women living with HIV (whom I call the “Narrators”) to share their stories of HIV service work. What I thought would be stories of Canadian HIV service employment became transnational narratives of living with and working in HIV, and how those experiences – in Canada and “back home,” as Africans, immigrants, and women – shaped the Narrators’ understanding, or what I call sensemaking, of HIV service work as (un)caring work.
In listening to these stories, I also heard their poetry. Congruent with home knowing in African and Caribbean cultures, I gathered their stories using oral storytelling methods. Then I would analyze these stories based on a performance narrative technique I call resonance interpretation. I looked for emotive resonance where powerful emotions were aroused in the Narrators or me during narrative sharing, witnessing or interpreting; political resonance where the Narrators declared calls for action related to their work in HIV; and theoretical resonance, or passages that conceptualized HIV-related work as caring work.
In collaboration with the Narrators, I “re-told” their stories as poetry (aka poetic re-telling) to embody the emotive resonance of the original telling and evoke the theoretical and political relevance of the sharing. The Narrators and I co-created thirty-two poems; with their permission, we re-tell them to you.
This blog will share the poetic re-tellings and highlight what resonated with me as I listened to the original narration and engaged in poetic recreation. I would also highlight how these re-tellings convey broader themes of HIV service work as (un)caring work for African immigrant women and other African, Caribbean and Black women living with HIV.
For those of you who want to be “schooled,” I will also showcase some of the thinking I encountered while conducting the Because She Cares study, including the thinking of health activists, transnational feminists, anticolonial scholars that guided my sensemaking. I will also introduce examples of HIV caring work in Canada and abroad, particularly those that centre the voices of people living with HIV.
On behalf of the Narrators, I would like to share their stories of HIV caring work and the local and transnational work they do… because I CARE. I hope that re-telling their stories will better ensure the creation of work environments that care for African, Caribbean and Black women living with HIV.