Give Children a Chance!
By Save the Children Azerbaijan
BAKU - Children can do amazing things if given the opportunity. Encouraging the theatrical abilities of IDP school children in Mingechevir, UNICEF in partnership with Save the Children, through their Avian Influenza and Health Lifestyles Program, gave 17 children at Agdam IDP School the ability to create, design and perform their own production promoting healthy living. “This is the first time we have produced and performed all by ourselves. Before we never did such a thing,” said active and enthusiastic Elvin, twelve years old, the host of the production.
The Avian Influenza and Healthy Lifestyles Program sought to increase Azerbaijani children’s basic knowledge and improve their behavior and attitudes towards healthy living. Combined with educational television talk shows, puppet performances on themes including Avian Influenza, hygiene, independent decision-making and effective communication took place at urban and rural schools across Azerbaijan. At the Program’s close, partners decided to create one final educational show for and with children-- this time focusing directly on IDP children.
To initiate activities, the project team visited the Agdam IDP School in Mingechevir and spoke with representatives of the IDP community, explaining how children would gain creative thinking skills and learn healthy lifestyle topics and tolerance through scenarios they would perform. Once a group of children was selected to stage the performance, each child became an expert in their own right on one aspect of theater production and design. Dividing the necessary roles among themselves, each child became theatre director, actor, stage designer or make-up artist according to his or her own ability and interest.
As the Agdam IDP school is one of the poorest in Mingechevir, IDP children study in overwhelmingly unsatisfactory conditions. Not only do IDP families live in a section of the school, but there is not enough space to adequately fit all classes. Despite the bleak environment around them, the children thoroughly enjoyed the preparation, rehearsal, and performance —actively participating with enthusiasm and suggesting many creative additions. One idea proposed by the students was to make advertising posters to invite their community to see the performance. The children followed making different poster designs that included the names of the actors and organizers.
Joking among themselves and with team members, the children not only had fun during the rehearsals but also were correcting each other’s mistakes and comparing their school work. “Before, I had never done theater or been on stage. I discovered that I have different abilities, artistic and acting skills that I never knew I had,” said twelve-year-old Ragsana, performing as the ‘Cup’. Thirteen-year-old Peykar, the student director of the whole performance, shared her appreciation that children were able to learn healthy lifestyles through theater. “The performance taught us things we cannot learn in classes-- teamwork, directing, organizing, performing-- skills which could be very useful for our future.”
The main role was performed by seven-year-old Turkan who was delighted to make new friends through theater. When the project team first saw her, nobody believed that she would be able to perform such an important role or to remember the script because of her age. But Turkan proved herself able-- acting well and attentive to the director’s directions. Turkan believed that it was significant for her to learn the importance of cleanliness through the performance and rehearsals.
After two weeks of working creating props and sets and laborious rehearsing, the children performed their production in front of an audience of about 100 classmates, parents, teachers, and peers from a neighboring school. Following the performance, the children received certificates and small prizes-- symbols of what their performance taught them not only about hygiene but also about their potential for success.