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'Super Chicken' leads rural fight against bird flu

'Super Chicken' leads rural fight against bird flu

At a normally deserted pagoda in the sleepy border town of Bavet, nearly 200 people

stand entranced by the antics of "Super Chicken," a life-sized bird-man

who preaches wise words about the dangers of bird flu.

"Super Chicken" is the highlight of a night of entertainment presented

by Sovanna Phum, a Phnom Penh-based art association that has been working to educate

people living in isolated villages about the deadly H5N1 strain of the avian influenza

virus, or "bird flu."

The April 11 performance marked the end of a 120-date tour that has reached thousands

of villagers from Kampong Cham, Takeo, Prey Veng and Svay Rieng provinces.

"The villages on the border of Vietnam are poorer and some people did not know

about bird flu, and it is also the location where most of the bird flu outbreaks

have occurred. It's our duty to deliver the message," said Sao Channtomaly,

Sovanna Phum project assistant. "The scripting we use is very important. We

try to tell the people that we can buy more chickens later, but we cannot buy our

health back."

On arrival at their performance destination, Sovanna Phum staff and performers spend

hours promoting the evening's performance by handing out posters, stickers and leaflets

around neighboring villages. At 7:30 p.m. a short hygiene and safety film is screened,

and followed by a play to promote awareness of the virus. The night ends with an

interactive question-and-answer session, giving villagers the opportunity to win

prizes for correctly answering bird flu-related questions.

Referring to the recent death of a 13-year-old Kampong Cham girl from H5N1, Channtomaly

said it was important to ensure that people living in remote areas were equipped

with the skills and knowledge to react to a bird flu outbreak.

"After the performance the people know a lot more about bird flu. We must keep

repeating the same messages over and over again so they all know," Channtomaly

said.

The tour was organized in conjunction with the UN Food and Agricultural Organization

(FAO), Unicef, the Academy for Education Development (AED) and USAID, as well as

Action International and the Fine Arts Association. It was one of a number of initiatives

- including television commercials, radio spots, leaflet drops and marches - organized

by local health officials in a bid to curb the spread of the disease.

Yon Fernandez de Larrinoa Arcal, FAO emergency program coordinator, said that educating

villagers about bird flu and hygiene practices was of great importance. Since late

2005, FAO had trained 4,700 villagers in bird flu prevention and management practices,

he said.

Sovanna Phum project manager Lydia Parusol said that results from an independent

evaluation of the tours' effectiveness had been pleasing and showed that many villagers

were beginning to adopt better poultry handling practices.

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