Théatre: Acting to Understanding
Read a textbook, watch a documentary. If you can stay awake, you’re sure to absorb some tidbits of information along the way. While there can be more and less thrilling versions of both, sans doubt you surely soak it all up differently, and through sound, motion, and vision you comprehend specifics that before were left to an unknowing imagination. Dance, theatre, and film are all based off of this idea. In Senegal especially, theatre and the power of personally conveyed information have long been valued and used. Griots, which are a rough mix of troubadours and historians, sing praise songs that range from explaining lineages to teaching moral lessons. After all, when life doesn’t give you paper, use your memory right?
When I first heard of IntraHealth I was drawn to it because of its audacity to focus on the small and local even as it has become international and high profile. Traveling and university have jaded part of my wistful hopes as time after time I have seen organizations and ideas that are picturesque wherever they were conceived, but had zero connection to local needs, customs, and realities… and consequently zero efficacy. Comparatively, IntraHealth mobilizes local talent to create sustainable and accessible health care.
This past week I was in Pikine, one of many exploding urban suburbs that sprung up around Dakar too fast for its own good. Inside the mayor’s compound, ISSU, an IntraHealth & Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation project focusing on Urban Reproductive Health, was conducting a “formation” of a theatre troup. Being at the training was ground zero for me. To form the troup, representatives from locally involved organizations were sent to the training. Together, they would be taught the tricks of the acting trade alongside the debates surrounding family planning. After a weeks’ worth of training, the troups would go into surrounding communities to perform hilarious skits, complete with buffoon uncles. These performances explain away myths and confusion that most often prevent the 97% of women who know about “planning” from getting it. The clutch is in the meaning though. Just like that documentary, someone will understand all the technicalities of the debate in a more complete manner, see the face of someone understanding why planning is a good thing, and learn to laugh at so many of the ridiculous arguments that people put in the world today. Take away the French and the structured postes de santé, and instead present information through the theatre and Wolof wit that has been a part of Senegal for so long.