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Shadow theatre effective medium for AIDS education

Shadow theatre effective medium for AIDS education

An innovative puppetry show is helping to shed light on the shadowy issues of prostitution and HIV, just one of the NGOs using entertainment to spread important social messages in Cambodia.

W hen the amorous shadow puppet waves away a big shadow condom during his meeting with a prostitute, a spiky HIV germ chases him down and there is a gentle sigh of disappointment from the crowd.

The setting is the dusty village square of Krang Angkrong Pei village 40 minutes from Phnom Penh where about 150 people from all ages of this relocated squatter community have gathered on a January evening for their first taste of live theatre. But among the excited children and families are another group. These foreigners are artists and NGO workers keen to see how their pilot project, combining shadow puppetry and HIV education, will be received by the villagers.

The show has been co-produced by Sovanna Phum and Silapak Khmer Amatak arts groups, who were introduced to the village by Cambodian Volunteers for Community Development.

It is, in fact, a "world premiere" of a new form of art according to the organizers. The puppetry mixes the two traditional forms of shadow theatre, sbeik thom and sbek touch, to come up with large sized puppets able to move their legs, arms and mouths. Combined with human shadows and high energy narration, it's an entertaining new take on an old art form.

"We think this is a powerful storytelling medium that is familiar to Khmers and speaks to all ages," says Charley Todd, project coordinator for Silapak Khmer Amatak.

"Our hope is this message that is delivered with both humor and serious content will break down barriers...and encourage safer practices," says Todd.

Since moving from downtown Phnom Penh in June 2002 after fire destroyed their rooftop slum dwellings, this community has already been touched by HIV, with one person dead and at least one more infected.

By Cambodian standards, the village of 250 families has got off lightly. So far. According to the Ministry of Health, 2.8 per cent of Cambodian adults had HIV in 2002. That statistic is thankfully declining and communities like Krang Angkrong Pei present a chance for NGOs to get in early and teach people how to avoid HIV and hopefully slow the devastating spread of the virus.

"At school we only educate the children, but this [puppetry] will educate all people," says Prey Bora a community leader.

While shadow puppets may have traditional appeal, it's karaoke videos that the nation is hooked on nowadays. Christian organization Tearfund has made two such videos in an effort to get their HIV message to children and teenagers.

Filmed in September last year, one video features Touch Srey Nich, the popular singer who was shot on October 21 in an attack that killed her mother and left her paralysed. Seeing the singer acting the role of a wife whose husband tells her he has HIV, has a double emotional impact on the audience.

"The Khmers are literally crying when they see it," says Glen Miles, children at risk facilitator for Tearfund.

The videos are part of a training kit being prepared by the organization. There is already interest in the videos from groups working with children and Tearfund hopes that with further funding they can complete the project in September this year.

Karaoke will also be part of a wide-ranging campaign by the BBC World Service Trust about HIV, child and maternal health. Later this year they will launch a 60 part television drama, advertisements on TV and radio and karaoke videos.

Previous HIV campaigns run by the trust in India taught the BBC important lessons about getting social messages across to the public.

"What we found there was 25 per cent of people who'd seen or heard only one of our outputs had changed their behavior, whereas of the people who'd seen more than one output 47 per cent changed their behavior," said Giselle Portenier, Head of Projects.

"Really what we're saying is that repeating messages often on many different outputs gets the messages across," said Portenier.

Children of Krang Angkrong Pei pose for photographs after watching the puppetry performance. For many it was their first taste of live theatre and they loved it.

Back at the village the final shadow has disappeared and the puppeteers begin packing up their props. The trial run has been a success and the artists and NGO workers are chatting about a provincial tour planned for the dry season next year.

In the glow of the large back-lit white screen local children play excitedly, but their play has changed. Before the show the girls sat quietly while the boys threw themselves at each other in mock kick-boxing moves. Now, they all clamber up in front of the screen trying to cast their shadows and pose for photographs.

The organisers hope children will imitate the positive social advice of the show as well as the fun of making shadows and protect themselves from HIV as they grow older.

The setting is the dusty village square of Krang Angkrong Pei village 40 minutes from Phnom Penh where about 150 people from all ages of this relocated squatter community have gathered on a January evening for their first taste of live theatre. But among the excited children and families are another group. These foreigners are artists and NGO workers keen to see how their pilot project, combining shadow puppetry and HIV education, will be received by the villagers.

The show has been co-produced by Sovanna Phum and Silapak Khmer Amatak arts groups, who were introduced to the village by Cambodian Volunteers for Community Development.

It is, in fact, a "world premiere" of a new form of art according to the organizers. The puppetry mixes the two traditional forms of shadow theatre, sbeik thom and sbek touch, to come up with large sized puppets able to move their legs, arms and mouths. Combined with human shadows and high energy narration, it's an entertaining new take on an old art form.

"We think this is a powerful storytelling medium that is familiar to Khmers and speaks to all ages," says Charley Todd, project coordinator for Silapak Khmer Amatak.

"Our hope is this message that is delivered with both humor and serious content will break down barriers...and encourage safer practices," says Todd.

Since moving from downtown Phnom Penh in June 2002 after fire destroyed their rooftop slum dwellings, this community has already been touched by HIV, with one person dead and at least one more infected.

By Cambodian standards, the village of 250 families has got off lightly. So far. According to the Ministry of Health, 2.8 per cent of Cambodian adults had HIV in 2002. That statistic is thankfully declining and communities like Krang Angkrong Pei present a chance for NGOs to get in early and teach people how to avoid HIV and hopefully slow the devastating spread of the virus.

"At school we only educate the children, but this [puppetry] will educate all people," says Prey Bora a community leader.

While shadow puppets may have traditional appeal, it's karaoke videos that the nation is hooked on nowadays. Christian organization Tearfund has made two such videos in an effort to get their HIV message to children and teenagers.

Filmed in September last year, one video features Touch Srey Nich, the popular singer who was shot on October 21 in an attack that killed her mother and left her paralysed. Seeing the singer acting the role of a wife whose husband tells her he has HIV, has a double emotional impact on the audience.

"The Khmers are literally crying when they see it," says Glen Miles, children at risk facilitator for Tearfund.

The videos are part of a training kit being prepared by the organization. There is already interest in the videos from groups working with children and Tearfund hopes that with further funding they can complete the project in September this year.

Karaoke will also be part of a wide-ranging campaign by the BBC World Service Trust about HIV, child and maternal health. Later this year they will launch a 60 part television drama, advertisements on TV and radio and karaoke videos.

Previous HIV campaigns run by the trust in India taught the BBC important lessons about getting social messages across to the public.

"What we found there was 25 per cent of people who'd seen or heard only one of our outputs had changed their behavior, whereas of the people who'd seen more than one output 47 per cent changed their behavior," said Giselle Portenier, Head of Projects.

"Really what we're saying is that repeating messages often on many different outputs gets the messages across," said Portenier.

Back at the village the final shadow has disappeared and the puppeteers begin packing up their props. The trial run has been a success and the artists and NGO workers are chatting about a provincial tour planned for the dry season next year.

In the glow of the large back-lit white screen local children play excitedly, but their play has changed. Before the show the girls sat quietly while the boys threw themselves at each other in mock kick-boxing moves. Now, they all clamber up in front of the screen trying to cast their shadows and pose for photographs.

The organisers hope children will imitate the positive social advice of the show as well as the fun of making shadows and protect themselves from HIV as they grow older.

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