|Training Manual in Combatting Childhood Communicable Diseases Part I (Peace Corps, 1985, 579 pages)|
|Module 4: Health education|
|Session 23: Adult learning and nonformal education techniques|
Primary Health Care and Community Development through Folk Media - An Experiment in the Colombo Slums
by Carol Aloyslus
"It is a new experiment that is being tried out to spread the message of Primary Health Care (PHC) to a population that knows very little about health and sanitation."
The nova Programme Support Communications approach, using traditional art forms to convey health messages to the target population, is aimed at supporting an on-going slum upgrading project - the Environmental Health and Community Development Project bunched three years ago between the government of Sri Lanka and UNICEF. Thy is the first time that such a communication project has been formulated to be carried out systematically and comprehensively in Sri Lanka.
A ten-member Committee has now been set up of representatives of government departments such as Colombo Municipal Council, Common Amenities Hoard, and the Urban Development Authority, to monitor the project which will officially be inaugurated under the name Jana Okra (Awakening of the People).
Can drama be considered an effective medium of raising the overall quality of life of a people living well below the poverty line? Can an inanimate object such as a puppet be cast into the role of a communicator of health messages?
Simon, who is the UNICEF Consultant in this novel experiment, gives a positive reply to these questions. "Drama helps to put across any kind of message, especially to an uneducated audience, in a far more tangible and meaningful way than any discussion or film show can". But why Fog Drama? Why not a more modern form of drama? "Because," he explains, "this kind of drama belongs to the kind of people our messages are directed to and can be understood and appreciated by them. As for using puppets for this purpose it was just an experiment carried out to coincide with the traditional puppet shows staged at Vesak. The fact that it was a huge success proves that Puppets can be effective Communicators."
The two puppet shows staged on Vesak day this year were based on the Jataka tales revolving around the life of lord Buddha. The unique quality about them was that this was the first time that these religious stories were re-written in a modern context to dive an insight into the living conditions and innumerable problems of the shanty population in Sri Lanka.
Patachara, the first play, was based on the popular religious tale of an unfortunate woman who falls from society and is finally saved by the Lord Buddha. In the re-interpretation of this story, a rich girl falls in love with her chauffeur and ends up in a slum similar to the shanty garden in which the play was staged. She endures trials similar to those of the slum folk in that garden. The script poignantly describes the extreme poverty and hardships she endure, and the deaths of several of her children through numerous diseases which frequently occur in the shanties due to ignorance and poor sanitation. Finally she turns to prostitution to earn a living. Contracting a venereal disease she nearly ends her life but is saved by a Buddhist nun who helps her to enter the order and find peace of mind.
Throughout the play attention is focussed on the common problems of the Garden population - their dire poverty, malnutrition, the unsanitary living conditions, their lack of education, ignorance of basic health care, and the almost total lack of opportunities to better themselves. It also draws attention to the constant exploitation of these unfortunate people by the society around them.
Kisa Gothami, the second play, revolves around the story of a mother who is unable to reconcile herself to the death of her child until she is finally shown the truth by the Lord Buddha, when he sends her out to find a house in her village where no young child has died. She returns with the sad knowledge that every mother in her village had endured the same tragedy.
In the reinterpreted version of this popular Vesak play, the authors sought to highlight the prevalence of child mortality and morbidity among the slum population
The fact that the plays had been rewritten by members of the target audience, who had also been responsible for the entire production, was considered most encouraging since this voluntary gesture of the garden population indicated that an awareness had been created.
The plays had taken only three weeks of intensive preparation. Within that brief period, the UNICEF consultant was able to gather together the most talented youth of the garden and its immediate neighbours, guide them in writing the scripts, let them introduce their own ideas and problems into the plays, and then show them how to assemble the puppets and manipulate them.
This team of dramatists in the making not only prepared excellent scripts complete with the taped voices of about 25 persons in the garden who voiced the different characters in the play, they also assembled the stage and the sets.
(From: UNICEF. Population Communications Support Newsletter. Volume 7, Number 3, (December 1983). pp. 1,4-6.)