Today’s date of 12/12/12 is pretty catchy, as is the upcoming end of the world on 12/21/12. But as a Health volunteer, I’ve been more focused on 12/1/12, which marks the annual observance of World AIDS Day. As part of the activities here in Lichinga, my REDES girls’ group combined with my sitemate Jon’s students to present a theater piece.
To backtrack a bit, the two groups initially met when they tied for 2nd place at an English Theater competition in September. English Theater, like REDES, is a secondary project organized by Peace Corps Volunteers across the country. I thought it would be a great opportunity for my REDES group to practice their English and public speaking skills, and to spend a fun weekend in Cuamba with groups from other cities and provinces. And since I was away from site for the 6 weeks leading up to the competition, it was logistically simpler to work with my REDES group rather than forming a new group specifically for English Theater.
The theater piece was based on my REDES group’s discussions of issues faced by their peers. The protagonist is a young girl who is violated by her teacher. The encounter leaves her pregnant, HIV positive, and ashamed of herself. The play addressed issues of harassment/assault in schools, premature pregnancy, and stigma surrounding HIV. The REDES members developed the script themselves in response to the competition’s theme: “We Are All Equal.”
My REDES group was the only all-girls group at the English Theater competition—most groups had one or two girls, if any. In addition to tying for second place, the girl playing the protagonist won Best Actress. It was a huge boost to their confidence and to all the participants’ opinion of what an all-girls group could do. I was really proud of the girls for continuing their work while I was travelling; it was a great demonstration of the group’s sustainability.
The girl who won Best Actress is named Estela, and is actually my empregada’s niece. She participated in the National Science Fair with my sitemate Chris last year, and he referred her to me as a possible REDES member when I first created the group. She was very enthusiastic, and due to her great attitude and perfect attendance at meetings, she was selected to attend the regional REDES workshop in July. After the workshop, she took an even more active role in recruiting other girls & facilitating some activities during the meetings. Her confidence and positive spirit have grown over the course of the year and have been great to see. My family observed it for themselves when they met her during their visit to Lichinga. Seeing her dance up to the stage at the English Theater competition and then fall to her knees and cross herself after accepting the Best Actress award was one of the most heartwarming moments of my service thus far. And after participating in three of Peace Corps’ secondary projects, Estela is a great ambassador to promote these types of activities among her peers, many of whom have never travelled outside Lichinga.
I’ve seen a similar blossoming of confidence in my REDES co-facilitator, Clara. She was a 19-year-old student at the Pedagogical University when we first began working together, whereas many REDES counterparts are middle-aged activists. However, her leadership and communication skills stood out during every training and workshop, and she was selected to represent the Mozambican facilitators on the national REDES leadership team. This is a new role within REDES, which I think will be great for Clara and for REDES as a whole. Since I’m now the REDES Northern Regional Coordinator, I’m excited to work with her to plan meetings and workshops during the coming year.
The World AIDS Day theater piece was another great example of sustainability and the development of leadership skills among the Mozambicans we work with. After their win at English Theater, the students approached me and my sitemate Jon to propose a joint project. They wanted to build on their experience by presenting a theater piece here in the community. They selected a theme, wrote a script, and more or less directed the rehearsals themselves. They even threw a surprise party for Jon after the performance, since it was also his last day in Lichinga. I’m not sure which he enjoyed more—the party, or the pickup line referencing limits that his math students included in the theater script. The students are now using their summer vacation to film a “telenovela” soap opera in my backyard. The storyline follows the romantic intrigues among a group of students as they work on a theater piece… Art imitating life?