|© UNICEF Sudan/2007/Tania McBride|
|An actor plays the role of the HIV virus in an awareness-raising drama competion supported by UNICEF in El Fasher, North Darfur|
by Tania McBride, UNICEF Communication Officer
El Fasher, North Darfur, 25 November 2007. "You can live with AIDS" was one of the key messages facing the crowd of over 1,000 people as they packed into the CHF International youth centre in Al Salaam Camp for internally displaced persons in El Fasher for the final of a long-running drama competition.
The UNICEF-supported initiative drew competitors from three camps - Abu Shouk, Al Salaam and Zamzam - in a closely contested finale which emphasized how HIV/AIDS and gender-based violence were confronted by many people within the community on a daily basis. Today's event was the culmination of competitions held within each of the camps around El Fasher which had drawn intense public interest on a regular basis.
Attempts to dispell myths surround HIV/AIDS and to sensitise the displaced population to changing sexual practices - such as increased condom use - were the primary focus of the two non-governmental organizations CHF International and Binaa Charity Association (a Sudanese organization) who had taken on the task of training young people in each theatre group to highlight behaviours that could expose individuals to risk of infection.
Rousing performances by each of the three theatre troupes held the audience captive - at times giving rise to laughter, but also leaving moments of silence as information was absorbed. While the spectre of AIDS moved around the stage, realistic scenarios were played out, linking the underlying messages with the daily lives of camp residents; the rape of a young girl, the tranferring of HIV to a bride by a groom unaware of his status, the passing of the HIV virus knowingly by a commercial sex worker in a drama aptly entitled 'Welcome to the club'. The portrayal of a young girl, who forfeited her education to look after the family herd of goats and was subsequently a victim of rape, created heartfelt scenes highlighting the impact of gender-based violence on families, individuals and communities.
|© UNICEF Sudan/2007/Tania McBride|
|Two girls act out a scene in a UNICEF-supported drama competition to raise awareness of HIV/AIDS in El Fasher, North Darfur|
Throughout all three performances, the message that individuals and families can live with AIDS was repeatedly emphasised and practical ways to limit exposure to the virus were disseminated.
"By bringing young people together in the spirit of drama and entertainment we can both educate them and get the message out to a much wider audience."
"Today is about recognizing that many people affected by the conflict in Darfur are at risk - not just from the conflict itself but from other threats such as HIV, AIDS and violence against women," says Dr. Haydar Nasser, UNICEF's chief in North Darfur. "By bringing young people together in the spirit of drama and entertainment we can both educate them and get the message out to a much wider audience."
As the competition played out, over all winners were declared - Abu Shouk camp, with their 'Welcome to the club', who just saw off local favourites Al Salaam, with Zamzam's competitors coming in a very close third.
Today's competition signalled the 16th day of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence in El Fasher. As World AIDS Day approaches on 1 December, and with estimates that by the year 2010 more than 18 million children in sub-Saharan Africa - more than all the children in the United Kingdom - will have lost at least one parent to AIDS, the competition was indeed well-timed.