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Health activists spread life-saving messages

© UNICEF Mozambique/James Elder
The community theatre groups are taking a vital message of cholera prevention to people affected by flooding in Mozambique.

Sofala Province, 14 March 2007 – There are few spectacles more pleasing than seeing 100 children’s faces light up with laughter. That the source of their joy is a message of good health and hygiene, dressed up as theatre, only adds to the moment.

The community theatre groups are taking a vital message of cholera prevention to people affected by flooding in Mozambique that has left more than 160,000 people – half of them children – homeless after the Zambezi broke its banks and took with it crops, livestock and homes.

As thousands of people arrived in the accommodation centres, and as their stay is prolonged by flood waters subsiding slowly, the threat of cholera and dysentery rises. But with emergency funds from the US Fund for UNICEF, the training and deployment of health campaigners by UNICEF in Mozambique was able to start immediately.

Light on props, but heavy on theatrics, the theatre groups draw crowds of hundreds within a minute of arriving and beating their drums. Mothers and daughters with babies on their backs, fathers and sons, coy couples and grandparents all roar with laughter as the play begins. The message – wash your hands, keep your food protected, go to the doctor – is simple, yet it is delivered amid scenes of slap-stick humour that enthral the crowd. But as it turns serious, when the daughter is struck with cholera, a hush descends over the audience and it’s clear the point has been conveyed.

“Along with ensuring safe water for the thousands of people in this emergency, hygiene and sanitation education is imperative,” said UNICEF’s head of operations on the ground in Caia, Jeremy Hopkins. “Of course we only see the results when people do not get sick, so it’s a ‘silent success’.”

© UNICEF Mozambique/James Elder
A mobile video unit drives between communities and each night shows a movie with a message on health.

Community theatre is just one part of UNICEF’s multi-media approach to informing communities about cholera prevention, safe hygiene, good sanitation, and overall healthy practices. Teams of ‘activistas’ go from tent to tent in the accommodation centres, others are outside toilets with soap and water, a third group focuses on families and distributing leaflets, a fourth plasters poster messages on toilets, while a mobile video unit drives between communities and each night shows a movie with a message on health.

Arriving in areas where radios are rare and televisions not existent, the mobile units are hugely popular. As night falls, they hang a huge video screen between trees, set up their amps and microphone, and charge their generator. Within five minutes they have created something most closely resembling a ‘Drive-In’ movie cinema. 

As with the theatre group, an important addition to the mobile video unit is the discussion they create after the show. The audience is asked various questions on health, hygiene, and traditional healers versus doctors. Then community members of all ages take the floor to give their thoughts, and suddenly debate springs up and the message is multiplied.

Says one audience member: “I think sometimes the children may ‘turn off their ears’ when they are saying these important things in schools, but look at them here. They are mesmerized by this screen and movie.”

 

 
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