Act4Africa is an award winning health and education charity aiming to promote gender justice for women and girls and equip them with life skills to be free from poverty, using Theatre for Development (TfD) techniques. We aim to change attitudes, transform communities, and lives. Our holistic approach prioritises the needs of women and girls and poor communities in Sub-Saharan Africa. Working at grass roots level with a focus on women, the charity uses performance arts activities to communicate key issues.
Prevention is better than cure’ is a well-known proverb. Non-communicable diseases often develop because people do not know basic health information which would help them to reduce their risk of disease. It is important to communicate health messages to people in ways that are engaging, and which will help them to remember.
Storytelling is part of all cultures. It helps us to explain complex ideas in simple ways. There are many ways of telling stories: theatre, puppets, interactive games, music and even modern technology like video. Act4Africa has been using drama techniques in its project work in East Africa for over 18years and has reached over 1.75m beneficiaries with these methods.
Drama games and techniques such as TfD help to get people’s attention. Many cultures are used to a more traditional style of teaching but interactive teaching through games and drama can be fresh, new and attractive to them. It’s possible to develop a play and visit several communities to share a message. Or sometimes we may want to focus on one group of people and develop a performance in which they participate themselves. However, developing a play will take time and investment from participants. It’s important to keep the storyline simple to make sure the message is not lost. Sometimes it helps to use well-known local stories and adapt them in our performance.
Involve the audience
‘Forum theatre’ is also a powerful tool we use. It’s an interactive way of exploring issues by examining a problem and suggesting a solution through role play. Actors or audience members can stop a performance and suggest how the actors can change the outcome of the scene. This helps the audience to participate in the action and think about how to solve the problem being presented.
For example, if the message is about preventing lung disease:
Briefly explain to the audience that you will be doing a play in which they will need to participate. This will engage them from the beginning of the process.
Ask for a volunteer to enter the stage and ask them to mime cooking on an open fire inside the house. Ask for a second volunteer to come into the scene pretending to smoke.
Ask for another volunteer to play a child coming back home. He should mime coughing as he breathes in smoke from the cigarette and the fire. A basic idea of a story has now been built, and the characters identified. Freeze the action and ask the audience what they see. Replay the action. This time the volunteers can speak – but they still need to keep the action brief. When the action has stopped, explain that we now have a short piece that we can forum. Tell the group that they should think about moments where they could try to change the outcome for the child. Explain that we will now see the scene again, a bit faster, and that when someone sees a moment for change, they should shout stop. You will then freeze the action. A volunteer should replace one of the characters to try out a solution.
Act4Africa has been using drama techniques in its project work in East Africa for over 16 years and has reached over 1.5m beneficiaries with these effective methods.
Annet, a young mother aged 17years, lost her father when she was 12years old. Her mother brought her up alone with her 3 younger brothers. Annet tells us, “I dropped out of school at the age of 14 to help my mother to grow food for us to eat and care for my 3 brothers.” Annet’s mother could not afford her school fees and she missed school most days, which affected her performance in class. Annet recalls the moment she was at school and her menstrual periods came, “I had no sanitary pads to help me and was so embarrassed before my fellows. Such embarrassments were one of the factors that forced me to drop out school before completing my primary level education.” Life at home was hard for Annet and she felt fortunate to get a job as a house maid where she worked for a year before her male boss fell in love with her secretly and forced her into sex which resulted in her becoming pregnant. “The man didn’t accept responsibility but chased me out immediately I told him that I was pregnant. Helpless, I returned to my mother’s home with the pregnancy and gave birth to a child Who is 2 years old now.” Last year Annet, together with her friends, were mobilized and selected to be trained and empowered with knowledge and skills under the Act4Africa program for Adolescent Mothers. Annet tells us of the success this brought her.
“As part of a Saving Group, I have been adding the little money I get from providing labour in people’s fields and the sale of small bags and necklaces made from beads. In April I was able to get a loan of 100,000 shillings (about £20) which I used to rent a small plot of land and my mother gave me seeds to grow. I worked entirely alone in my garden and, the season being good, I managed to harvest one sack of beans and six sacks of ground nuts. These have brought me an income of around 800,000 shillings (£160) and I have paid back my loan and started to save again.” With smiles on her face, Annet told us, “I am using some of the money to start my own food vending enterprise next month; I hope that the business will change my miserable life. Although I will be busy working entirely alone, I hope that, if all goes well, small basic needs at home will never be a problem again and I will be able to look after my child more easily.”
Annet is so grateful for the program that has greatly changed her life, she praises Act4Africa for having socially and economically empowered her. In her life she never thought anyone would help her because even her friends and relatives thought she was a prostitute. “My Savings Group was so supportive and helped me challenge the stigma I felt at first. The beadmaking skills and knowledge of enterprise I gained helped me a lot, also the knowledge in sexual reproductive health. “I have opened my mind in a way that I can now take rational decisions in an assertive way. I hope never to be a victim of sexual harassment again.” Annet, is just one more beneficiary with a positive change in her life, thanks to the Act4Africa program.
Lorene aged 17 years