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Communication for Development (C4D)

Theatre staged to win No-Malaria game

Lessons from Country Office - Burundi

© UNICEF Burundi/2011/Krzysiek
Theatre of the Oppressed enables local communities to fight back against oppression in their daily lives

Ngozi, Burundi - 07 September 2011 - “Give it back! You will not sell this! Malaria is killing our babies!,” screams adolescent girl fighting with her father over a blue plastic bag. Around the couple crowds a group of people cheering, laughing and applauding enthusiastically.
Welcome to Marangara – a picturesque colline of Burundi’s Northern Province of Ngozi and a scene of open-air interactive theatre where everyone can be an actor playing life-saving role of Impregnated Mosquito Net user.

“The theatre gives us a chance to interact with our oppressors who stop us from using the net as we should do,” says Odette, a mother of five and one of the participants. “It is bad to sell it only for a beer. Our husbands, brothers and cousins should learn from good examples because the Mosquito Net can save us and our children.”

© UNICEF Burundi/2011/Krzysiek
Ms Asteria Nizigiyimana, a “joker”, pauses the show to let audience in Theatrum Mundi

“The people of Burundi love open-space participatory events so we use humour, songs and role-play to encourage them to join us in the show,” explains Ms Asteria Nizigiyimana of the local NGO Tubiyage who runs the interactive theatre with the UNICEF support.

Ms Nizigiyimaana, who is in the participatory show-business since 1994, is a “joker” who facilitates dialogue between the audience and her crew of professional actors.

As she explains, the idea is to challenge community taboos, misconceptions and attitudes by playing the reality people face in their everyday lives:

“The theatre is people’s world because we play their real lives and they play with us.”

© UNICEF Burundi/2011/Krzysiek
Local communities engage in the theatre to express their concerns and find solutiosn to their problems

Participation is a key

In Marangara show everyone is an actor. Yet, the theatre is only an entry point to reach the root causes of community problems through dialogue and meaningful interaction.

“People engage with us because we give them a chance to express their concerns, practice positive actions and find solutions for themselves. This is a chain of true behaviour change,” Ms Nizigiyimana says.

For Mr Adel Namacumi, a shop owner in Marangara, the theatre is also a tool to fight people’s ignorance.

“Most people can’t read or write and they are ignorant about such important issues,” he says. “I had a Mosquito Net before but I sold it because I didn’t know how to use it. Now I know it will protect me and my family.”

In the participatory Theatre people like Mr Namacumi are invited to become advocates for the issues of common importance such as health, education, hygiene and domestic violence.

The theatre uses the technique of “The Oppressed” that enables community to engage in self-empowering processes of fighting back against oppression in their daily lives through dialogue and critical thinking.

“A passive spectator becomes an active actor who leaves the room of silence and talk about his or her daily problems,” Ms Nizigiyimana explains.

Getting men on board

Pascal is a father of six and a successful mosquito net user. Yet, as he confirms, it took him some time to make up his mind about it: “I sold my first net because people were telling me that malaria can be healed with natural methods. My wife was opposing but I didn’t listen. The net is money, I thought.”

Bringing men like Pascal on board seems to be vital in the patriarchal society where the opinion is often imposed by the stronger one. The theatre aims to highlight positives roles of women in the society, advocating for their greater involvement in family decision-making.

“Since we use mosquito net there is no malaria in my house. When you know how to use it, you understand how important it is. I should be listening to my wife from the beginning,” Pascal smiles.

© UNICEF Burundi/2011/Krzysiek
Only 48 per cent of the children under five and 48 per cent of pregnant women in the rural areas sleep under mosquito net in Burundi. Statistics gets worse in the rural and most remote areas

Fighting malaria with equity

Every 30 seconds malaria kills one child in the sub-Saharan Africa. In Burundi, malaria affects more than two million people, some of 25 per cent of the total population. Together with diarrhoea and pneumonia, the disease is a main cause of mortality among children under five, often reaching the level of endemic emergency. The youngest children and pregnant women are the most vulnerable.

Although UNICEF and development partners are responding to the crisis with the nationwide distribution, mosquito nets are often traded or misused. According to 2010 Burundi Demographic Health Survey, only 48 per cent of the children under five and 48 per cent of pregnant women in the rural areas sleep under mosquito net.

“Malaria is the first reason for consultation in the Health Centres across the country. Yet, around 40 per cent of Burundi children in need of immediate medical treatment are left home without any assistance,” explains UNICEF Health Specialist Dr Sophie Leonard.

In order to fight the disease, participation of community becomes vital. UNICEF in Burundi combines the distribution of mosquito nets with a wide-range of supplementary interventions including advocacy, capacity building, social-mobilisation, communication for behaviour change (C4D) and community-based health interventions.

The activities aim to reach the most vulnerable and unprivileged population, mostly in the remote areas and with limited access to basic services.




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