Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Volunteering in Malawi (1/2)

During the month of August ADRA Malawi was proud to host two high-school students from the UK for a week of volunteer experience. They were exposed to many different aspects of development, from working in the head office to a visit to a community based youth group, who use theatre to influence their community and raise awareness of issues such as domestic violence and HIV/AIDS. The following stories reflect their experiences and what impacted them during their week in Malawi.
Kerryn Lodo: Volunteer Supervisor

Author: Bianca Mawee-Patel

When hearing that we would be seeing an active Theatre for Development program performed in a village, I was interested in seeing how a piece of theatre could really influence the community in changing their attitudes towards important issues.

The aim of Theatre for Development is to use live performance to communicate information across a range of sectors to bring about change in attitudes and lifestyle.

The youth community group is made up of around 15 boys and girls, although due to illness and lack of transport, only 7 were present at the performance in ­­­­­­­­­­­Chiradzulu. The youth group meets voluntarily once a week for about two hours, and as a group they discuss which issues they feel need to be bought to attention. They then create a short piece of theatre outlining this.

Everybody within the group gets involved and performs with real energy and passion for getting their message across. When asked why they attend the youth group, they all said that as youths, they had a responsibility to educate their community, change their attitudes and change the misconceptions towards issues such as HIV/AIDS, violence, theft and abuse.

Since the topics are quite sensitive – and some members might not want to be directly told about them – the youth group use music, song, dance, comedy, role plays and forums to get their message across. This serves two purposes, to provide the community with useful information and also as a form of entertainment where the whole community gathers together. There is a relaxed atmosphere where the community feels comfortable to get involved with the theatre. During the forum, at the end of the theatre, I was surprised to see how many people were speaking up about what they had learned from the youths. One of the youths stood in front of the community (which was made up of about 130 people of all ages) to outline the major aims of their piece.

The topic covered in the theatre I witnessed was awareness of HIV/AIDS. In the forum, the community was actively discussing the fact that a person has a right to know if their partner is HIV positive. But, what I found was the most interesting was the fact that instead of the youths simply telling the community the right answers, they were asking the community, letting them realise for themselves. This I feel is a good way of letting the community come up with the solutions to their own problems, remembering that there are no right answers, as every community differs ( one community might have come up with a different solution to another). During the role-play, it was good to see the community really responding to the issues covered. This was either through the comedy and the fact that they could relate.

This experience has shown Theatre for Development to be an extremely effective way in creating dialogue and change in the community and the responses were really positive. The youths do so much to try and educate their community and it’s obvious to see that they feel that they have a responsibility as youths to change the ways of the community. In comparison the youth in the UK are not as active as in Malawi, and it’s a real eye opener to compare the priorities of a youth in Malawi who wants to influence change within their community against the priority of youth in the UK who have a much more individual focus.

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