Health Education Through Drama

I hope everyone enjoyed last week’s Peace Corps Cribs video – I made it for the incoming Peace Corps The Gambia volunteers to give them an idea of what a typical PC hut looks like. I thought I would continue the theme of videos in this blog because I’m in the midst of a multimedia health education project. A few things to consider:

1. Everyday, more and more people are getting smart phones and using mobile technology to enhance their daily lives. There are older women in my village who can’t speak, write, or read a word of English, but show me their new smart phones and ask me to fix the time or look up a contact to call for them. Mobile technology is a severely underutilized resource in development work.
2. People love television. We have a television in my compound, but it runs on solar and so it only turns on for a few hours every day. To make up for that, people download the tv shows onto their smart phones and watch them (over and over and over) everyday until they almost have them memorized.
3. It’s time for us to get innovative and creative with health education (Everywhere. Do you remember everything from your 7th grade Health class?). I think the answer to this is through videos and mobile phones.

In Gambian culture, it’s easier to express your thoughts on touchy subjects, or things that are taboo, through dramas. Most villages have drama groups that help to inform the community about activities in a comical and engaging way. At the school in my village, I help out with our Peer Health Club, educating them on topics they want to hear about like malaria, STIs, tuberculosis, healthy relationships, and gender roles. When I asked them to share what they learned about gender roles (and how men and women should work together instead of separate) with their families at home, they said the only way they could do that would be through dramas. So we did some!

The Peer Health Club split into groups, practiced, and performed dramas on the topics of their choosing: Malaria, early marriage, and gender roles. We performed the dramas for the school and the regional Public Health Officers, I videotaped them, and compressed them to file sizes that can be shared on mobile phones.

When the Village Care Group (a similar concept to the Peer Health Club, just with the adults in my village) heard about the dramas, they wanted to do one too! So they practiced and performed a drama on the importance of exclusive breastfeeding for 6 months at our Reproductive and Child Health (RCH) clinic for 200 mothers and children.

Unfortunately for you, and fortunately for the people in my village who can’t speak English, the dramas are all in Wolof. The hope is that the videos will be circulated throughout the village (and region) to be a springboard for family discussions on Malaria, early marriage, gender roles, and exclusive breastfeeding. We’re hoping to continue to do more dramas on different topics and hopefully in different local languages.

Malaria
(In this drama, students come home from school to greet their father. They tell him that they’ve learned about the dangers of malaria and that it can be prevented by sleeping under a bed net and cleaning your environment of standing water. The father refuses, rips down the bed net, asserts his position as owner of the compound and ends the discussion. Shortly after he succumbs to some of the symptoms of malaria: chills, vomiting, fever, and aches. They take him to the clinic where the nurse administers a RDT (Rapid Diagnostic Test), which is positive, gives him the Coartem medication and counsels him on the importance of sleeping under a bed net and cleaning your environment. An added gender role bonus – the wife says she doesn’t have time to always be cleaning the whole environment and tells the husband he needs to help out around the compound.)

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Early Marriage
(In Gambian culture, girls are sometimes married off at the age of 14 or 15. They drop out of school and assume the role of wife and mother without any consideration of their wants or needs. This is one of the touchy subjects better discussed through dramas. The student comes home and her father presents the man who will be her husband. She calls her mom, crying, because she doesn’t want to drop out of school. The mother argues with the father and with the help of a friend, it’s decided that the girl will continue to go to school and will look for a husband on her own time.)

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Gender Roles
(A man is seen sweeping his compound. A neighbor walks by and tells him to stop – this is “woman’s work.” The man tells the neighbor to get out of his compound, and that it is right to help your wife around the house. The man’s children get back from school crying that their friends are calling their father a “goor – jigen” (man-woman). They ask him to stop helping with domestic work. The wife comes back from the fields and explains that gender equality means that women and men have equal responsibility in the household and that they need to help each other.)

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Exclusive Breastfeeding
(A woman is sitting with her 4 month old baby. The grandma comes by and tells the Mom she has to give her child water because it’s hot outside. The local CBC (Community Birth Companion) steps in and explains the benefits of exclusive breastfeeding for 6 months: lower rates of diarrhea, better mother-child attachment, increased immune system and nutritional status. The husband comes home and tells the grandma to leave his child alone, that he wants a strong and healthy child and that will only happen through exclusively breastfeeding. Then he says he will sweep the compound so that his wife has more time to breastfeed the baby.)

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