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The power of play in fighting HIV discrimination

© UNICEF/MOZA06-00678/G.Pirozzi
Community theatre invites members of the audience to participate as performers and to explore the problems they face in their communities.

Beira (Mozambique) – Fourteen-year-old Malua falls in love with fifteen-year-old Angelo, a fellow student at her school. He wants to have sex with her but she is able to persuade him to wait and they continue their friendship, supporting each other with their studies.

However, when Malua’s father finds out about Angelo, he panics because he wants his daughter to marry a 40- year-old male friend of his with plenty of money to pay him a handsome lobola, a type of bride price. He tells Malua’s mother that their teenage daughter must drop out of school to marry the older man.

The desperate pleas of Malua’s mother to let her daughter stay in school fall on deaf ears and even make her husband aggressive. Malua is devastated but is forced to stop her studies, give up the boy she loves
and marry the older man.

After some years, her husband dies of AIDS-related illnesses, leaving her also infected with HIV. By chance, Angelo bumps into her. At first he fails to recognize Malua, who has aged considerably, but when he does, he declares his undying love. Malua feels the same but she explains that she has eight children to care for and she is also HIV-positive. Angelo gives her up.

The story of Malua is a play shown to a lively crowd at a market place on Saturday afternoon in Munhava, the most populous suburb in Beira, in the central province of Sofala.

“What would you do if you were Malua? Would you be able to persuade Angelo to stay?” asks one member of the Kurarama theatre group to the captivated audience.

The audience takes it in turns to dress up with a wrap cloth as Malua and to persuade Angelo to stay with her. Both young women and young men in the crowd are eager to participate in the play. They remember the script surprisingly well, acting with enthusiasm. Most of them fail to change the plot of the play despite their eager efforts.

Twenty-three -year-old Ines Dausse volunteers to participate in the play. She argues persuasively that it is important to let Malua continue her studies, pointing out the value of education. The member of the theatre group who plays the father looks as if he is changing his mind. However, it is the audience who has to decide whether Ines’s arguments were strong enough.

The actor asks the crowd, “Did Ines change the situation?” The crowd is in agreement. “Yes,” they shout enthusiastically.” The girl is rewarded with a T-shirt.

© UNICEF/MOZA06-00711/G.Pirozzi
Community theater groups involve hundreds of dedicated young people around the country.

Dausse, who is married with a baby, says that she has always known that education is important. Although she had to drop out of school earlier than she wanted, at grade eight, she plans to return to her studies with her husband. “I know lots of girls who marry early and give up their studies, but it is not good.”

Lucas Castigo, the director of the theatre group, says that the actors, who are all volunteers, perform about four times a month in the community about many issues, such as HIV and AIDS, girls’ education, children’s rights, health and hygiene. If the need arises, like during the recent cholera epidemic, they perform twice a week.

This participatory type of drama, founded by the Brazilian theatre producer Augusto Boal is known as
“Teatro do Oprimido (theatre of the oppressed) due to its use of people’s real life experiences and the way they collectively explore the problems they face.

UNICEF Communication Officer Patricia Portela Souza says that this method is especially effective in Mozambique, where most people do not easily access electronic media. “It teaches people to search for their own solutions to their problems,” she says. Mozambique’s Community Theatre Network, with UNICEF support, has adopted this participatory method. Up until 2006, around 65,000 people in 10 provinces have been reached by 101 theatre groups.

Castigo says that besides the active participation of the community, the commitment of the actors themselves is key to the success. “I take part because I want to improve the lives of my people.”

Twenty- three-year-old Gentilde Silva Juliao, who plays Malua, appears to act from the heart too. She is a student, hoping to be a doctor in the future. She feels strongly about what Malua should have done.

“Malua should have persuaded Angelo to stay with her. You shouldn’t discriminate against someone because they are HIV-positive,” she says Asked if she would marry a man with eight children who is HIV-positive, she replies without hesitation. “When you’re in love, you can marry someone with HIV even if you’re negative. You just must use a condom.”

 

 
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