Monday, October 02, 2006

Acting Out Against HIV

When people are constantly surrounded by atrocious living conditions it may be human nature--as some sort of survival instinct--to mentally wall oneself off, so that you are not continually exhausted by what you are experiencing. People are often able to resist the realities around them, and only when those realities are observed in a different form--be it films, photographs, or other media--are people able to truly comprehend a dreadful situation.

Videos, such as Deadly Catch (see link) or others that I have seen about certain areas of Kenya have always made the day to day experience around here powerfully tangible. When you can watch it on the screen, and then take a step outside and see the same fishing boats, the same women exchanging fish for sex, the same patients being carried from their car to the health center, and back to the car again, it really makes you take the situation to heart and realize where you are.

On Remba and Ringiti, a theatre group of trained community health workers uses drama as this conversion of reality to demonstrate topics related to HIV affecting the beach community. We watched two performances by residents of these islands that covered topics such as; the promiscuous nature of life in the islands, wife inheritance, going to a Voluntary Counseling and Testing Center (VCT), finding out about a positive HIV test result, becoming ill and haggard as a result of the disease, and confronting family members about one’s status.

The performances drew a large audience of interested community members. By using humor to address a disease most people at the beach level still fear because of a lack of understanding, the performance achieved its goal to make people think about HIV and its treatment methods.

One skit in particular was about seeking different methods of treatment for someone whose promiscuity had led to her to become very sick with HIV, but had not been tested yet. In the skit, the actors went from a church, to a witchdoctor, and finally to a VCT for the confirmatory test. There was a big roar of laughter from the crowd after the actors supporting the ill “patient” left the witchdoctor (played by an actual witchdoctor from the community). His line was, “I'm a witchdoctor, I can’t do anything for these people…that woman evidently has AIDS, she needs real medicine. But I still got their money…hahaha!” By focusing on such topics of the local culture, these theatre groups not only solve the issue of idleness on the beach for a few hours each week, but also reach people personally in a way that makes them stop and understand the problems affecting their own community.

-----John Kurap

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