Storytelling as a tool for social change

Tan Mei Zi
Carmen Soo, HFM President Dr Rosmawati Mohamed, guest of honour Datin Paduka Marina Mahathir, WOMEN:girls President and founder Low Ngai Yuen, and KK Wong announced the collaboration to raise awareness about street communities and hepatitis infection. — Picture courtesy of WOMEN:girls

PETALING JAYA, Sept 22 — Films are a powerful medium, and storytelling on the screen can be used to help raise awareness for a cause.

Orang Itu is a unique example of local film by Hepatitis Free Malaysia (HFM) and WOMEN:girls who have joined forces to raise public awareness on hepatitis and street communities.

It tells of Mawar, played by Sofia Jane, returning to a city filled with painful memories for her as she attempts to make amends with her past.

Also starring KK Wong, Carmen Soo, and Sawyer Leong, the full film will be screened at the upcoming HFM Fundraising Gala Night on October 16 at GSC Pavilion where ticket proceeds will go into purchasing hepatitis test kits for members of the street community in Malaysia.

The campaign hopes that Orang Itu will be able to shine a light on the street communities of Malaysia, a group at greater risk of hepatitis infection due to the lack of support and healthcare available to them.

Efforts will also go into encouraging high-risk groups to attend blood screenings for early detection and treatment of hepatitis.

Soo spoke to Malay Mail about the film’s importance in giving a voice to a group of marginalised individuals who are so often ignored and plagued by stereotypes.

“This is an extension of my effort to try and bring to light how some live in Malaysia. There are people who don’t usually get a voice or an identity or even an ID card.

“I hope people will be enlightened and educated about this situation in our country,” she said.

Founding president of WOMEN:girls and co-director of Orang Itu Low Ngai Yuen talked about film’s ability to empower people in telling their own stories, leading to effective change that will help communities in need.

“When we first started using storytelling as a social tool, we wanted it to be an empowerment tool for the storyteller,” Low said.

“We don’t put barriers or limitations to the storyteller by saying ‘Oh, you need to be professionally skilled.’ Anyone can tell a story, anyone can use film as a medium.

“We were very lucky because we are doing it a time where you can shoot a film with your handphone, which was unheard of even 10 years ago,” she continued.

By opening up the medium of storytelling to a wider community, Low said that this helps people to consider the plight of others as they construct their narratives.

“It empowers the audience watching it because they will realize they can have a voice too and it translates into something very powerful,” she continued.

According to HFM, 3 per cent of Malaysian adults born before the implementation of the Hepatitis B vaccination in 1989 are at risk of developing the disease and it’s estimated that 380,000 Malaysian people are living with Hepatitis C, a majority of whom are unaware they are infected.

These figures are attributed to the ‘silent’ nature of the hepatitis epidemic; a large majority of those infected do not show symptoms until the disease has progressed into an advanced stage where liver cancer, the second leading cause of cancer deaths globally, can arise.

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