Baylor College of Medicine medical student Chaya Murali has a special interest in working with kids affected by genetic disorders. But instead of focusing on the scientific research, her focus has shifted to how the power of words can help.
Murali gained the inspiration to create writing workshops from a presentation by a photographer who takes photos of children and adults with genetic conditions.
The photography, spearheaded by Rick Guidotti of the organization Positive Exposure, helped the kids and adults by “showing others how they see themselves—as vibrant human beings with something to share with the world, not just as chronically ill people who look different from everyone else,” says Murali.
The power of words
Murali, who has an interest in writing as well as genetics, wondered whether writing could help kids with these disorders express their feelings, share experiences, and gain confidence.
With the help of genetics professor Dr. Lorraine Potocki, Director of Genetic Outreach Susan Fernbach, and the support of the Molecular and Human Genetics Department, they’ve held three successful Get it Write workshops, and plan to hold the next one July 20.
Workshop participants are mostly children affected by genetic conditions—either a child who has a genetic condition or who has a sibling with a genetic diagnosis. Kids are paired on-on-one with volunteers, young professionals who like to write or medical volunteers, many of whom are members of the Baylor Genetics Interest Group.
The workshop experience
Workshops begin with a meet-and-greet, and then Murali facilitates the program by suggesting writing prompts.
Prompts have included ideas such as: Write about something that makes you special; write about something that scares you; write about your favorite place; write about a family member, and so on. Usually, at the end of each workshop, Murali suggests that the kids write about whatever they want.
“This prompt is designed to get the kids to write about their genetic condition or their sibling who is affected by a genetic condition,” Murali says, “However, we don’t ever force the kids to write about those topics if they choose not to.”
Kids who prefer to draw or color have the opportunity to use crayons or colored pencils instead.
She says the goals of these workshops are to provide a place where kids can:
- Learn that writing is a fun, useful tool to express themselves and help others understand them
- Talk to each other about the experience of having a genetic condition or of having a sibling affected by a genetic condition
- Enjoy time with young adults and interact with medical students in a non-medical environment
Once the writing portion of the workshop is complete, the group enjoys snacks or a meal together.
Getting it right
Murali says that her interest in creating Get it Write was born of her interest in genetics combined with her passion for writing. “Writing personal essays has made me feel that my thoughts and experiences are of value not only to me, but to others,” she says. “This is the belief I want to impart to the children who participate in Get it Write.”
She’s published three personal essays herself—the most recent of which is nominated for a Pushcart Prize. “I want to empower these children to use writing to help others understand them and ‘get it right’ about genetic disorders.”
Parents have told her that the workshops are so valuable to them because of the connections the kids make with each other and with the volunteers. One child, paired with a medical student volunteer at a workshop, stayed in touch via email for months afterward, and paired up again at the most recent event.
“Putting together Get it Write is one of my proudest accomplishments of medical school,” she says, “I have high hopes that our Genetics Interest Group at BCM can make the workshops a tradition. It’s amazing what a little bit of writing can do.”
-By Jordan Magaziner