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Not Just Entertainers

Not just entertainers, they are educators and harbingers of behavior change

A theatre group in UNICEF’s integrated District Lalitpur is working on behavior change among villagers

By Kuslum Mustafa

Lalitpur, (Uttar Pradesh), August: In just 30 minutes flat they not only put up the make-shift stage under the banyan tree, installed the temporary sound system, spread the flooring, tied banners on the walls of hutments but also sent out verbal invites to all via loud speakers to come watch their street play.

Some 1,000 odd Sehariya tribals, who are a socially excluded community, inhabiting Rajwan village heeded the call of the Lok Sagar theatre group. They came in droves – young, old and children – putting aside whatever they were doing, curious and excited at this free entertainment opportunity that had suddenly come into their mundane lives. Soon they were all squatting on the floor; unmindful of the oppressive afternoon heat.

The organizers, many of whom later doubled up as actors in the play had a set agenda - to foster behavioral change on 4 key behaviors: exclusive breastfeeding for 6 months, hand washing with soap, all girls completing at least primary education and young people get complete knowledge on HIV AIDS and safe behavior practices. The pre-performance activities included mobilizing people to come, mingling with the crowd and drawing information in a subtle, unobtrusive manner.

The hymn sung at the beginning of the show struck just the right cultural chord. The play that followed stressed on the importance of early initiation and exclusive breast-feeding for 6 months. Sans make-up, the actor’s dialogue in the local dialect was lapped up by the villagers.

Rachana Sharma, UNICEF Program Communication Specialist said, “Lok Sagar is helping bring about behavior change using local theatre with edutainment (education plus entertainment).” The group is staging 400 shows, two each in 180 villages, in three Blocks of Lalitpur District. The 180 villages have been carefully selected where these behaviors are not showing very positive trends for change.

Use of local theater is just one of the many other behavior change activities being implemented in Lalitpur like building interpersonal communicators out of village volunteers, self help group members, adolescent girls, PRI members; audio-visual shows of film on 4 key behavior; outdoor communication.

“The advantage of street plays using local and rich Bundeli art form is that it is a good crowd puller as Lalitpur is a media dark area.  Pre and post shows knowledge assessment have invariably shown a rise of 30-40 percent increase in the knowledge quotient of the villagers.

Since the theatre team is only using young and local artists who undergo intensive 15 days practical training on complete knowledge of 4 key behaviors, scripts, development theatre, pre and post performance activities the fringe benefit also is behavior development of these young artists,” she said

 “We have not only grown as actors, but also as human beings. Our self confidence and communication skills have all boomed,” says Ravi Tomar, a graduate who has been with the group for several years.

Describing these street plays as one which have “instant acceptability and immediate impact”, Preeti Khare says she cherishes the blessings and good wishes, not just the claps of appreciation.

Meticulously planned to ensure that the message is not lost after each show, the theatre team quickly breaks up to hold small group discussions and household visits to discuss the 4 key behaviors.

They also hand over the play script to Kishori Samooh – an adolescent girls’ group formed by UNICEF in each village. The adolescent girls group is briefly oriented on the 4 key behaviors and they agree to use the script to perform the same play in any upcoming village festival. This way the legacy of communication lives on.



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