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Kelly Frisby / Waverley Care

Kelly Jean Frisby is from North Vancouver, BC. She is currently completing her MSc in Global Health and Public Policy at the University of Edinburgh. She graduated with a BA Hons. Anthropology degree with distinction from Concordia University in Montreal, Quebec. Her undergraduate thesis explored how both Canadian and Northern Ugandan volunteers conceptualize 'help' in a development context to further unpack the pervasive neocolonial 'helping' versus 'helped' dichotomy. She will be moving to Berlin in the fall to advocate for refugee rights. 

I am extremely grateful to have the opportunity to undertake a Work Based Placement with Waverley Care in Edinburgh. I am working on a project that is exploring how the creative arts in a weekly support group held at Waverley Care has been transformational for women living with HIV to overcome their social isolation. I will critically appraise the strengths and limitations of the project in a report for the organization and the findings will make up part of my MSc dissertation in Global Health and Public Policy.

In the early 1980s, Edinburgh was the capital of HIV in Europe and over 1/3 of heroin addicts had tested positive for the disease. As a response, Waverley Care was established in 1989. The non-profit organization has adapted over the years to accommodate the changing nature of HIV by incorporating Hepatitis C and branching out into new areas of focus. Isis is the name of the weekly support group held at Waverley Care for women living with HIV. According to legend, Isis is an Egyptian goddess who used her magic powers to piece together her husband after he was torn apart by an evil villain. The women of the group felt that Isis symbolized how their lives had been fragmented by HIV and how the support group has helped them reclaim their lives.

My research uses a feminist constructivist approach that has been used in an earlier qualitative evaluation of a Waverley Care project (Positive Scotland Evaluation, Sidhva, 2013). This approach requires that the participants are seen as the ‘experts’ because of their knowledge, understanding, and lived experience (Sidhva, 2013). Using narrative interviews (Bauer, 1996), this approach values multiple perspectives and seeks to achieve understanding instead of pre-specified outcomes. I have been actively participating in the weekly support group and we are currently working on a collaborative art project that will be exhibited at the Surgeon’s Hall Medical Museum. In the 18th and early 19th centuries, a life-sized anatomical Venus had served as an idealized dissection model for male doctors. The women will be creating their own version of the Venus to “talk back” as female patients living with HIV to the patriarchal medical system.

The interviews include powerful narratives such as one woman, now 75, who was diagnosed with HIV when she was 67. She said that without the group she would not be able to lead a full and healthy life. I also interviewed a woman with HIV who was able to give birth to two HIV-negative children. I did not know this was even possible and she credited Waverley Care for supporting her along the way. A third narrative belongs to one woman who just celebrated 30 years of living with HIV. She recently told her story and highlighted the role of Waverley Care in a newspaper article. This was extremely courageous considering that she proudly disclosed her identity in light of the pervasive stigma surrounding HIV in Scottish society. While these women’s stories are diverse in context, they all associated their long-term participation in the creative arts in the weekly support group at Waverley Care with overcoming social isolation.

A major strength of the Waverley project lies in its uniquely long history; some women have been members for over 20 years. A few of the key success factors that encourage the women to keep coming over the years is the group’s freedom of attendance, non-judgmental peer support, and confidence building through creative art participation. I have witnessed the extremely strong relationships that have been forged over this time. While my research includes recommendations for project improvement, such as improving wheelchair accessibility, the findings illustrate how Isis is an effective model for sustainable, long-term community-based health promotion projects.

Ceramics