Myanmar: Theatre for development - Community in action

from UN Development Programme
Published on 31 Jul 2009 View Original
31 July 2009, Ngapudaw - Talented social promoter Myo Myint Tun belongs to a landless family from Zeephyuseik village, Ngapudaw Township. During Nargis he lost his father and his family boat which was used to transport salt and other goods. Having lost his means for income, he started working as a porter at the harbour. Concurrently, he began to cope with his depression and sorrow by consuming alcohol on a daily basis.

In due course, Myo Myint was offered to attend a Theatre for Development training in Yangon. After completing the training and starting to perform in the villages, he confessed that he is "very happy working as a social promoter since [he] can entertain and help villagers who are traumatized and who suffered like [him]". He is also pleased that he makes enough money to support his mother.

Myo Myint has also become a role model in his village. After watching one of his image theatre performances about the negative impact of alcoholism, some village men who also consumed alcohol said that they too wanted to reduce the amount they drink. Having villagers want to follow in his footsteps makes Myo Myint happy and keeps him motivated to continue performing.

Recovery efforts have been ongoing since May 2008 when cyclone Nargis ravaged the Delta region. UNDP's response thus far has, and continues to demonstrate the ability to work with Nargis-affected communities to respond to their material needs on the ground and to ensure that holistic healing of their trauma and suffering is addressed.

UNDP as part of its community-driven approach has piloted an initiative, Theatre for Development (TfD), which is an occasion where communities can confront their fears and troubles whilst enjoying staged performances and participatory activities such as games and 'ice-breakers' conducted by their fellow villagers.

The multi-faceted approach of the initiative works to collectively heal and boost self-confidence. Not only does it serve as entertainment, but it also acts as a tool for therapy, education and information dissemination. Furthermore, it encourages community participation and dialogue, self-examination, and ownership over ongoing recovery efforts that affect them. With this conscious attempt to transform individual and collective attitude and behaviour, it is hoped that communities can move from feeling isolated and helpless to feeling unified and empowered.

The Early Recovery Programme's capacity development unit laid the foundation of TfD in February 2009 by inviting Pan Intercultural Arts, U.K. (experts on using theatre for post-traumatic therapy), to conduct two week-long trainings for 60 village youth and eight UNDP staff from five townships. Coaching was provided on: theatre techniques; facilitation skills; developing body language and vocal abilities; brainstorming methods; song writing; and story telling. In order to ensure the effectiveness and sustainability of TfD, the vision was to utilize and build the capacities of villagers themselves to ensure that all activities are and stay genuinely community-driven. The youth were selected by field staff and local bodies based on their social mobilization skills, interest and talent in music and drama, willingness to work with communities and inherent understanding of local culture and problems on the ground. These youth leaders, now Social Promoters under UNDP's cash-for-work programme, travel the region in small groups to perform skits and to facilitate various interactive activities and problem solving discussions within their communities.

During the training, participants used their first hand experience of Nargis to identify pressing problems for communities which could be dealt with through TfD. Once these issues were detected, participants returned to their townships to develop scripts. In April 2009, a follow-up workshop was held where the best scripts were chosen and standardized to address the most relevant messages: livelihoods, community participation, self-reliance groups, gender-based violence, alcoholism, gambling, and the cross-cutting issues of disaster risk reduction and HIV/AIDS. According to the needs of each village, a few scripts and songs are staged. One way is by using 'still images' to depict social challenges; characters then awaken to express their stories, fears, hopes, and possible solutions.

Starting in May, the social promoters, along with a UNDP township Capacity Development Specialist or trained Field Facilitator, have carried out activities in 180 villages across five townships. The project was reviewed on June 9 with specialists and social promoters congregating to share experiences and discuss the way forward.

Participants, some of whom joined the training with an impassive attitude, are now radiating a revitalized attitude, which is slowly trickling down into the communities. The appreciation of the villagers', whose numbers at gatherings continue to multiply, is evident in their smiles and in the laughter and applause that fill the room throughout each performance. Moreover, there is even demand from villagers for plays relating to the disabled and the elderly, and to energizing idle youth.

Inspired by this experience, these promoters feel proud of their contribution so far and have faith that this endeavour, already one of the largest initiated in the world, can expand its presence and impact around Myanmar by up scaling the number of targeted villages. Prior to this will be a second-round of activities in the same 180 villages and an advanced training for these promoters this coming October to improve their communication skills and to provide thorough knowledge on relevant subjects so they are better-informed to deal with queries.

Feedback on TfD has been encouraging, therefore UNDP will continue to enhance its efforts, keeping in mind of course that measurable qualitative work to heal wounds, to change behavior, and to make a profound impression on individual and collective well-being will take time - certainly longer than four months, but TfD has surely proved to be a commendable launch pad for this process.

By: Raseel Sehmi, ER Project Support Officer

For further details please contact:

Sudha Gooty (or) Naw Tin Thet San
Capacity Development Unit
UNDP Myanmar (or)