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In Burundi, interactive theatre empowers local communities in the fight against malaria

© UNICEF Burundi/2011/Krzysiek
Interactive theatre enables local communities to fight back against the oppression they face in their daily lives.

By Pawel Krzysiek

NGOZI, Burundi, 3 October 2011 -  “Give it back! You will not sell this! Malaria is killing our babies!” screams a young woman, as she engages in a passionate tug-of-war with her father over a blue plastic bag. A crowd of onlookers quickly gather around the duo, offering up their cheers, laughter and enthusiastic applause.

Although this scene may appear real, the audience is actually witnessing a scene of open-air interactive theatre, promoting the use of Insecticide-Treated Nets (ITN).

Empowering a community

“The theatre gives us a chance to interact with our oppressors who stop us from using the net as we should do,” said Odette, a mother of five and theatre participant. “It is bad to sell it only for a beer - the nets can save us and our children.”

Here in Marangara, in Burundi’s northern province of Ngozi, interactive theatre is used as an entry point to reach the root causes of community problems. Using the technique of “The Oppressed”, the community is encouraged to engage in self-empowering processes such as dialogue and critical thinking, to help them fight back against the oppression they face in their daily lives.

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

Ms. Nizigiyimaana, went on to highlight the need to challenge community taboos, misconceptions and attitudes. “The theatre is the people’s world because we play their real lives and they play with us,” she said.

© 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.

A major killer

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

“Most people can’t read or write and they are ignorant about such important issues,” he said. “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.”

Every 30 seconds, malaria kills one child in the sub-Saharan Africa. Together with diarrhoea and pneumonia, the disease is a main cause of mortality among children under five. The youngest children and pregnant women are, as always, the most vulnerable.

Although UNICEF and development partners are responding to the crisis with the nationwide distribution of ITNs, they are often traded or misused.

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

Reaching the most vulnerable

In order to fight the disease, community participation is essential. UNICEF in Burundi combines the distribution of ITNs with a wide-range of supplementary interventions including advocacy, capacity building, social mobilisation, communication for behaviour change and community-based health interventions.

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



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