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The online edition of the magazine published by The Johns Hopkins University, Zanvyl Krieger School of Arts and Sciences


[Tech Tools]     Stories to Tell

ortiz photos
Images of hope and healing: Dianna Ortiz, who was kidnapped and tortured while doing missionary work in Guatemala, continues to “work for a better world.”


This is the story of brokenness and beauty, and how a life as well as the world has been forever changed….

So begins Krieger freshman Ambroshia Murrietta, in a moving account about the life of her aunt, missionary nun Dianna Ortiz, who was kidnapped, tortured, and raped in Guatemala on Nov. 2, 1989.

Like most of the 11 other students who enrolled in the Intersession course, Digital Storytelling, Murrietta had never visited the Brown Foundation Digital Media Center (DMC) in the Mattin Center before classes started in January. And, like her class­mates in the course, her computer skills at the outset were pretty “basic,” she says.

Murrietta and the others were drawn to the one-credit course because they had stories to tell—personal narratives about the people closest to them. Stories that could come alive, the students believed, in a three-minute multi-media project that would blend still photos and video snippets with audio interviews, voiceovers, music clips, and sound effects.

…My aunt remembers nothing of her life before that November day except for a few childhood memories. My mom, the one she trusted enough to care for the 111 second-degree cigarette burns that had been ingrained in her back, was but a stranger to my aunt…

The students spent three intensive weeks in the course, calling on the expertise of faculty from a variety of disciplines. First, two instructors from the Expository Writing program helped them craft compelling written narra­tives. Then they worked closely with instructors in the DMC to get a crash course in high-tech knowledge such as operating video cameras, audio recording hardware, and editing software.

“The goal was creating imagery that, when paired with a written story, would create a very compelling piece,” explains Joan Freedman, director of the DMC, who came up with the idea for the course and pulled it all together.

The course was co-sponsored by Rose Varner-Gaskins, director of the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs. “It’s a wonderful way to get students exploring their cultural connections, at this, the beginning of their adulthood,” says Freedman. As they gather material and do their interviews, “They connect with family members,” she says.

This fall I spent November 2 with my aunt. Walking into her room, I found her lying in bed reading a book. I saw an altar with a cross in a traditional Hispanic form. Surrounding the cross were bouquets of picturesque orchids, daisies, roses—a symbol of life and beauty...That day I realized that the color and the life were finding their way back to my aunt…

Audio specialist Andrew Cole explored the world of sound effects, showing how to obtain a background aura (the sound of children playing in the park, for instance) to “create” an environment. And he offered examples of how music can be used in the background to evoke intense emotion.

Throughout the soundtrack of her project, Murrietta softly played Sara McLaughlin’s “Angel”: “In the arms of an angel/may you find some comfort here…”

Says Murrietta, “The lyrics just seemed to fit so well.” Today, Ortiz is the founder and executive director of the Torture Abolition Survivors and Support Coalition in Washington, and the co-author of a book about her experience, The Blindfold’s Eyes: My Journey from Torture to Truth. She continues her involvement in mission work.

“She’s their angel and she’s saved so many lives. She just doesn’t know it,” says Murrietta.

…My aunt may never be free of her past, but she keeps her “Jesus” sandals fastened tightly, and continues to work for a better world—a world filled with dignity and respect for the human race….

—Sue DePasquale



The Mattin Center at Five Years
Rethinking Citizenship
In Search of Poetry



Dean's Letter