Botswana, 5 December 2013: Wise Up programme uses theatre to raise awareness among youth in Botswana about HIV/AIDS
By Suzanne Beukes
On 29 November, UNICEF released Children and AIDS: Sixth Stocktaking Report, the first report of its kind since 2010.
An AIDS-free generation once seemed like a far-off dream. But, now, the world has what it takes to make this dream a reality. Advancements in preventing mother-to-child transmission of HIV have greatly decelerated the rate of new infections in babies in low- and middle-income countries. However, the same progress has not been seen in treatment for children living with HIV, and the trajectory of AIDS deaths among adolescents living with HIV remains alarming.
The Wise Up programme is teaming up with drama groups to raise awareness among youth in Botswana about HIV/AIDS – through theatre.
MAUN, Botswana, 5 December 2013 – “I was one angry teenager,” says Tumisang Tsheko, 20.
Tumisang was raped when she was writing her final exams. She has not been able to finish her education because of financial troubles. She has been unable to find a job.
Botswana’s youth unemployment rate is over 40 per cent. Although Tumisang’s home of Maun is a tourist town, there are limited opportunities for young people.
Young adults like her struggle to find work because of limited opportunities, and a lack of experience and expertise. They often turn to alcohol, drugs and risky sexual behaviour – which can lead to HIV infection.
Enter Wise Up. Wise Up is a programme initiated by UNICEF and the Government of Botswana to raise awareness among youth about the risks of HIV/AIDS. The programme uses mobile phone messages and social media platforms such as Facebook. Phone messages are categorized by age – 10–14, 15–19 and 20–24 – and sent to appropriate audiences.
Drama workshops for drama groups
Tumisang – who is known as ‘Tumi’ – has been trying to make ends meet by performing in a drama group called The Blue Arena.
Recently, Tumi and her group participated in a drama training programme held by Wise Up to help them address the challenges Botswana’s youth face – through theatre.
Workshops like the one Tumi attended have been conducted in three different locations. The workshops aim to improve the skills and performances of established drama groups.
A drama group will spend 10 days on such themes as HIV/AIDS, transactional sex and other relevant social issues. Eventually, the group will produce a 20-minute play and perform it in front of an audience. The goal is for the groups to be able to tackle complex and controversial topics in their communities in a way that can lead to behaviour change.
According to Lesego Agang, a communication specialist at UNICEF Botswana, the Wise Up programme needs multiple channels to be effective: “We realized that sending SMSs through the cellphone wasn’t enough, so we are also working with the communities to disseminate messages through theatre.”
Theatre is a powerful weapon in HIV/AIDS prevention and awareness. When a play is performed by a local drama group for a local audience in a local language, it has the ability to reach an audience member with a particular message that can have a lasting impact.
Theatre also serves as a mirror of a community’s behaviour. As Mpho Rabotsima, one of the facilitators of the Wise Up drama programme, explains, “Theatre distances itself. So, when people have a conversation and it’s so much in their faces, in most cases, they are reluctant to participate, especially if they are culturally sensitive.
“Drama, therefore, serves a mirror to reality, but is not actually reality – and therefore transports an audience and allows members to question why they like or dislike a character or story – and also presents them alternative solutions to a problem.”
One outcome of the drama training has been its overwhelming impact on the performers, themselves. Most of them are unemployed, and may have faced the kinds of challenges they are being asked to dramatize. Part of the process is being able to learn to express the impact of some of the performers’ own personal challenges.
For Tumi, the workshop provided some relief. “I personally have been helped a lot by this training,” she says. “Looking at the fact that I am a rape victim, and before this training I was angry – I was hopeless about my life because I felt like I was raped, what more could I say, how could I go out there and say anything to the world.
“But, by coming here, it showed me that I am also a queen because I can take action and be responsible for my life.”
Tumi has regained the ability to dream and to tell her message to other young people: “[L]ife doesn’t end where the problem is.”
Wise Up Botswana is on Facebook
More on HIV/AIDS
More on young people