Setting the stage for social change

Street theatre is proving an effective means of communicating messages about maternal and child health and promoting healthy behaviour in Mugu District

Preena Shrestha
UNICEF Nepal/2019/PShrestha

09 January 2020

There’s an excited buzz in the air in Chhayanath Rara Municipality in Mugu District on this crisp November morning.

UNICEF Nepal/2019/PShrestha

A crowd – made up of around a hundred or so children, women and men of all ages – has gathered around one of the open spaces in the village, all eyes focused on the costumed figures in the center.

UNICEF Nepal/2019/PShrestha
UNICEF Nepal/2019/PShrestha

Soon, the drama begins.

The story is a cautionary tale comparing the fates of two married couples, showing the difference made by men’s involvement in the health and wellbeing of their families.

UNICEF Nepal/2019/PShrestha

The play also incorporates information on available health services in the district, particularly for mothers and children. The audience is reminded of the different times that children need to be vaccinated to ensure full immunization, and encouraged to visit health facilities for delivery, and to get proper ante- and post-natal checkups.

UNICEF Nepal/2019/PShrestha

Told in the local Khas-Nepali language, and injected with humour, the drama captures everyone’s attention.

UNICEF Nepal/2019/PShrestha

Such street plays are a part of a broader UNICEF and KOICA effort to improve maternal, newborn and child health in Mugu District. The district’s performance in maternal and child health indicators is much lower than the national average, with less than 50 per cent of women giving birth in health facilities.

Along with better health infrastructure, service delivery and governance, promoting positive health behaviours in the community – through theatre, radio programmes, mobilization of community groups, and display of informational/educational material – is therefore a key aspect of the project.

UNICEF Nepal/2019/PShrestha

Directed by and featuring a cast of local artists from the Karnali Arts Centre (KAC), these plays – carried out regularly in different parts of the district – are an effective way of communicating messages about immunization, institutional delivery and men’s engagement, among others, to entire communities.

Since the project began, around 30 performances have so far been held around Mugu.

UNICEF Nepal/2019/PShrestha

“Mugu is one of the most geographically isolated and underdeveloped places in Nepal,” says Hira Bijuli Nepali, founder of KAC. He explains how most household chores and childcare, including physically heavy work, has traditionally been relegated to women. “Through our drama, we are trying to change people’s minds and actions, promote sharing of work between men and women, and remind them to take better care of their health.”

Hira believes theatre is a great way to educate a large mass of people. “When we interact with audiences after the show, they usually have a lot of questions, which is a good sign because that’s the first step to bringing social change,” he says. “People see themselves reflected in the story.

UNICEF Nepal/2019/PShrestha

Asta Rawal, who was part of the audience, reiterates this sentiment when asked what she thought of the show. “It felt very real, like they were talking about us or people we know,” she says.