Storyteller Brad Woods is going to have some stories to tell when he returns from Lesotho in a couple of weeks.
He leaves this week for the African country, where he will immerse himself in the work being done there by Guelph-based Bracelet of Hope.
The 10-year-old organization has a number of programs in the country related to fighting the spread of HIV/AIDs and helping those affected by the AIDs pandemic. It funds several foster homes for children orphaned by the disease. Over the years it has raised about $4 million for those efforts.
Woods expects his experience to be life-changing. He said in an interview the day before leaving that he has been preparing himself to face the overwhelming poverty and hardship in the country, and the overwhelming warmth of its people.
“But how do you prepare for that?” he pondered. “I know it’s going to be hard to see some things, and it’s going to be very emotional. But I don’t know how to prepare for something that is going to be emotionally draining, overwhelming or uplifting.”
He’s not sure what to expect, but he’s open to all possibilities.
“I love to immerse myself in unknown situations,” he said. “But it’s pretty rare for someone to suggest that I go and do that with a bunch of orphans in Sub-Saharan Africa. You just don’t get those kinds of opportunities.”
Volunteering at the summer camp where his kids worked this summer is more commonly what he would immerse himself in.
Woods, a teacher in a special needs facility, is an award-winning teller of very human, insightful and touching stories, often revolving around social justice issues. He tells his stories at music and writing festivals, and at special events, including those put on by Bracelet of Hope.
“For the past couple of years they’ve had me do some fundraising events, whether its after dinner entertainment, or something at the World AIDS Day,” he said. “For some time we have talked about me going to the country and seeing first hand what Bracelet of Hope is doing, so that I would be able to tell their stories more effectively.”
He said Bracelet of Hope founder Dr. Anne-Marie Zajdlik has been encouraging him for some time to visit the tiny African nation, which is an island country surrounded by South Africa. It has one of the highest HIV/AIDS rates in the world.
Woods has basically been asked to visit the country and find the great stories that Bracelet of Hope needs to tell back home.
“They have just said, you’re a storyteller, you’re an artist, go and find out, come back and tell people what they need to hear,” Woods said. “I know there will be stories, and I will tell those stories at every opportunity. I just hope I do it right.”
While in Lesotho, Woods will stay at one of the Bracelet of Hope foster homes, as well in a convent in the Leribe district that provides lodging for visitors. Leribe is where Bracelet of Hope opened and funded a HIV/AIDS clinic.
“My storytelling started more from an entertainment point of view, and it has turned into much more,” he said. “I use it with the kids I work with, and it’s become a literary thing. I use stories in all aspects of my life, as a teacher and as an artist.”
Woods has been supported in the Lesotho expedition by local businesses, as well as by his Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario, which worked to get him the time off he needed. As well, he recently received the Alice Kane Award for storytelling from the organization Storytelling Toronto, money from which will cover most of the travel costs.
“I don’t just want to go there and have a really nice time,” Woods added. “I want to go there and understand what is going on, and experience it as fully as I can.”
Follow Woods’ experience on his Lesotho: Stories of Hope blog at http://lesothostoriesofhope.blogspot.ca/.