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Orphanage and dance company unite for AIDS awareness

© UNICEF ESARO/Lewnes/ /2005
Children perform at Maputo's most prestigious national theatre to commemorate World AIDS Day 2005.

By Alexia Lewnes

MAPUTO, Mozambique, 28 February 2006 - A unique collaboration between an orphanage and one of Africa’s most celebrated dance companies shows how HIV/AIDS messages can be communicated through performance, while at the same time demonstrating the transforming power of art.

In mid-October 2005, members of the National Song and Dance Company of Mozambique, with UNICEF support, began working with 35 children aged 8 to 16 from Arco Iris orphanage. The dancers had 45 days to choreograph and produce a 45-minute musical to commemorate World AIDS Day at Maputo’s most prestigious national theatre. 

The National Song & Dance Company of Mozambique has earned critical acclaim throughout Africa, Europe, the Caribbean and the United States.  “We try to use art as a tool to pass along messages,” says David Abilio Mondlane, Director of the troupe. “We realised that maybe we can have a greater impact if we give a voice to the community itself.”

This was the first time the troupe had worked with children. “We thought we could just bring the kids in and teach them, but we saw quickly that wouldn’t work,” says Mondlane. “So many of them had problems and had suffered traumas – some were very shy and didn’t speak, others were undisciplined and wouldn’t listen.”

© UNICEF ESARO/Lewnes/ /2005
The unique collaboration between an orphanage and the National Song and Dance Company of Mozambique communicates AIDS messages through performance.

“I started by telling my story,” says Mondlane. An orphan, Mondlane explained how his mother died when he was just four and his father when he was eight. He described the major events that occurred in his life and the steps he took to bring him to where he is today. “When someone tells their story, it’s a type of liberation,” he says.  One by one, the children began sharing information about their own lives, some describing their losses and pain. “The kids just opened up. They needed someone who would listen to what they’ve been through. They needed to be heard.”

Over the next few weeks the children talked about HIV/AIDS and the dancers began to shape the performance. The children showed the troupe how they dance when alone at the orphanage so that the choreography would reflect movements natural to them.

The children performed “Window of Hope” to a full house in Maputo’s National Theater as part of a weeklong schedule of festivities to commemorate World AIDS Day. Through music, dance and spoken word the children addressed issues of prevention, testing, treatment, stigma and the pain of loss and discrimination. “You don’t get AIDS when you hug, dance, play sports, or shake hands,” said one boy in a skit that highlighted the ugly realities of stigma and ignorance.

The collaboration demonstrated how dance, music and theatre can bring people together and break down the barriers surrounding HIV/AIDS.  “This opened my heart,” says 14-year old Joanna, who has lived in the orphanage for five years.  “I never used to get along with the other children, now I have many friends. The teachers worked with us and helped us understand why we should support one another.  Now I know that I should not discriminate or avoid people. Dance has taught me not to discriminate.”

UNICEF supports community- based organisations to support children both in home and community care. UNICEF believes that placement of children in residential  institutions  should be reserved as a last resort when better care options have not yet been developed or as a temporary measure pending placement in a family.



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