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At a glance: Philippines

Mobile theatres helps children recover from tropical storm’s effects in the Philippines

© UNICEF Philippines/2010/Francia
The children of Aplaya Elementary School in Laguna Province, the Philippines, sit engrossed in the performance of a UNICEF-supported participatory mobile theatre troupe, which has visited 75 communities since Tropical Storm Ondoy struck in September 2009.

By Silje Vik Pedersen

LAGUNA PROVINCE, Philippines, 13 April 2010 – Loud music is playing in the covered basketball court at Aplaya Elementary School. About 200 children and their teachers have gathered around an improvised stage, where members of a mobile theatre troupe led by Perlyn ‘Lakan’ Bunyi are preparing for their performance.

“Good morning, Aplaya Elementary School,” Lakan says, greeting the children. “Good morning, sir!” they reply in unison.

“Before we start,” the actor adds, “you need to help me shout out the title of our performance. Then he calls out the Tagalog words for clean, healthy, strong and safe: “Linis, lusog, lakas, ligtas.”

The children join in. Soon, everyone in the village can hear them shout: ‘Linis! Lusog! Lakas! Ligtas!’

Songs, sketches and dances
The mobile theatre is part of a UNICEF and Save the Children collaboration to promote hygiene, sanitation and breastfeeding in communities affected by Tropical Storm Ondoy, which struck the Philippines in September 2009.

With its light format of songs, sketches and dances, the troupe has visited 75 communities in the provinces of Laguna, Rizal, Bulacan and Metro Manila. UNICEF has funded the entire run of productions and has provided technical assistance to the artists.

“Getting the children and the community to participate is an important part of the performance,” Lakan says. “It makes them feel at ease. And when they participate, it is easier for them to remember the messages.”

Dramatizing the emergency
The performance starts with a dramatization of the Ondoy emergency. A large piece of cloth is made to resemble the storm’s churning water. Lakan encourages the children to make sound effects of howling wind and to signify the rising water with their arms.

“How many of you were evacuated?” Lakan asks. Half the group raise their hands. “So then you know how it is in the evacuation centre,” he says.

To represent the centre’s crowding, the actors cram together around a straw mat onstage. One of them is snoring and a few others are arguing over a blanket. The children laugh as relief goods are handed out, along with seven different recipes for cooking the same food – sardines.

© UNICEF Philippines/2010/Pirozzi
Actor Perlyn ‘Lakan’ Bunyi, who leads a UNICEF-supported mobile theatre troupe, teaches handwashing to children at Aplaya Elementary School in Laguna Province, the Philippines, one of the areas affected by Tropical Storm Ondoy.

A way to address the issues
“We made this performance light and enjoyable to make people laugh at their own mistakes,” says Lakan. “It is also a good way to talk about issues that are not normally talked about in public.”

The performance takes the audience through songs about topics such as personal hygiene, what to do when you have a cold or the flu, how exclusive breastfeeding protects babies from sickness, and even what to do if there is another typhoon coming.

Several children are then invited to come up to the stage, where bowls of water and soap have been prepared. They get a course in proper handwashing, enthusiastically scrubbing their hands and making sure they follow the seven steps that Lakan and the other actors show them.

Renzo, 12, is one of the children invited onstage. He knows well what life in cramped conditions can be like, since he and his family were evacuated to the same basketball court where the songs and sketches take place today.

“I liked the performance very much,” says Renzo. “It’s funny and I also learned a lot of new things.” 

‘It’s something I can do’
At the end of the show, Lakan asks the children questions about the issues it has presented. The responses demonstrate whether the audience has understood the key messages.

“So far, we have only had positive feedback from the audience, and this shows how powerful the mobile theatre can be in getting these messages through,” Lakan notes later.

For Analyn, 12, the messages have hit home. “I liked the part about cleaning the environment,” she says. “It was nice and it’s something I can do where I live.”



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