By Sarah Johnston
On this very important day, World AIDS Day, I’m sure plenty of organizations and other blogs are giving people statistics and information about how devastating HIV and AIDS are. This is of course an extremely valid way of raising awareness but I thought it might be possible to show something positive, to focus on the hope shining in the darkness. One of our partner NGOs is PATH. They are essentially a catalyst for global health. Their mission is to have ‘a world where innovation ensures that health is within reach for everyone.’ They believe that solutions for the world’s biggest health problems are at hand and that it only takes a little creativity to make sure those solutions work in poor countries as well as rich ones. That creativity has been put to remarkable use in the fight against AIDS and I would like to share one of their incredible projects with you.
In Bungoma, western Kenya, before a crowd of 150 people, actors at an outdoor market demonstrate a young couple’s dilemma: she wants to go for counseling and an HIV test before getting intimate, but he feels like she’s questioning his manhood. Another actor stops the play to ask the audience, “Should this woman have sex with this man?” The audience responds with questions, suggestions, and lively debate. When the play resumes, they witness one possible ending.
PATH organizes such interactive community theater performances to prevent HIV transmission in Kenya, where nearly 9 percent of the population has HIV. Called “magnet theater” due to its natural pulling power, the regular performances are designed to get people talking about how traditional attitudes may be fueling the epidemic. One mother explains, “I do not know how to talk with my children about such things, so I encourage them to go to the magnet theater.” There, her young teenagers will join other people, young and old, who flock to take in the performances.
Because of their regularity and the audience participation, each performance is anticipated and much discussed by the whole community. Subjects such as HIV and sex, once taboo, become regular topics of conversation, laying the groundwork for societal attitudes to change, for new social norms to take hold.
This seems to me to be the only way that the fight can truly be won: grassroots campaigns that encourage a change in attitude and behavior. Finding a cure for AIDS is not necessarily the holy grail. Let’s face it, even if a cure did exist today, how many poor Africans would be able to access it do you think?
If this story of hope has inspired you today, I urge you to consider donating to PATH so they can continue with their hugely necessary and successful work. Thank you.