|© UNICEF India/2005/ Bagla|
|Participating in the performances was as much fun as watching, or even more.|
By Pallava Bagla and Kyria Abrahams
TAMIL NADU, India, 23 August 2005 – In tsunami-affected Tamil Nadu province, a UNICEF-supported programme for psychosocial recovery is giving children a chance to have fun and spread joy, by performing on stage with professional theatre companies.
Working in collaboration with the Song and Drama Division of the Indian government, UNICEF hired three theatre groups – Stage Image, Kalamani and Gananather Bommai Natak Sabha – to give 75 three-day performances throughout the Cuddalore District.
The professional performers worked with participating local children, training them in the basics of stage performance: dance movements, poetry recitation, humour and singing – all to both entertain and educate.
Song, dance and poetry helped the children forget their sorrows, while passing on health messages – created with advice from UNICEF – about the importance of clean drinking water and proper sanitation.
Anita, 14, was one of the participating children. She lost her mother in last year’s tsunami, which also claimed the lives of 126 of her friends and neighbours in the fishing village of Sonamkuppam.
When she first ventured on stage during practice sessions, Anita simply did not feel like dancing. It was difficult for her to overcome her grief in what she felt should be a year of mourning. The professional performers gave her abundant encouragement and support, and she eventually did join in, finally exclaiming at the end, “I wish it would last longer!”
|© UNICEF India/2005/ Bagla|
|The recovery programme came about through the efforts of professional theatre companies, the Government of India, and UNICEF.|
UNICEF’s Communications Officer in Chennai, Thomas George, calls this approach ‘healing through talent’. Mr. George gave the theatre groups advice on including the children in their performances, as well as a two-day orientation on how to incorporate life-saving information about personal hygiene and sanitation.
The eager young participants found imaginative ways to speak about good hygiene. Existing scripts were rewritten to include the use of latrines (proper latrines are an essential part of maintaining a sanitary environment). The children told jokes illustrating the need for washing hands.
Rewarding for all
Taking a light-hearted approach did not undermine the impact and seriousness of the message: Thousands of children die every day from diarrhoea and diseases transmitted through poor sanitation.
The creative director of Stage Image, Manjai V. Somu, said that incorporating village children into the professional performances of his group was the most rewarding experience of his 20-year career. The villagers appreciated the novelty and the creativity of the children, as audiences swelled to 400 or more at a time.
The show in which Anita participated was a smashing success. Anita performed a free-flowing modern dance to a current hit song. Another dancer, adorned in a magnificent bird costume, performed the traditional peacock dance, strutting about a makeshift stage while popular music blared from old-fashioned tin speakers.