Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Theatre for Social Change Successes and Challenges from Kakamega, Kenya

Our Fall 2014 intern, Jessy Hodder, is spending the semester in Kakamega, Kenya where she is conducting physical theatre workshops with various groups, from sex workers to street boys. She has been testing out our new theatre for Social Development manual. Here, she describes some of the challenges and successes of a recent training session with sex workers.

I had a very positive meeting this morning with Kakamega's sex workers.  

The first thing that I should note is that, like many places around the world, things are far more challenging than you expect them to be.  Things don't start on time, and the people are not used to open, unstructured spaces.  It took the women some time to get comfortable in a space without desks and chairs.  Having a translator also presented some real challenges.  I was never sure if what I was explaining was being fully understood by all participants.  Things can so easily get lost in translation.  I think that it may be helpful to include notes concerning these kinds of logistics (tips or tricks to help facilitators overcome such difficulties) within the manual. 

Below is a list of the activities that I facilitated and some of the observations that I made.

Spy:  Secret Friends & Enemies

At the beginning of this exercise, the women protested profusely.  They hated the idea that they had to select an "enemy" in the group.  I tried to explain that it was just for the sake of the activity, but they wouldn't have it.  So we changed it to person A and person B:  "Keep person A between you and person B."  I thought this was interesting.  It definitely reinforces the sense of community that is so ingrained here, and indeed the sisterhood of those who suffer on the streets.

Also, the fact that Kenyan women are such touchy-feely people posed a problem.  When I said "go," the women ran to the person that they had chosen as their "friend" (person A) and just stood there hugging them and laughing.  They had completely forgotten about the "enemy" (person B).  They were so loving and supportive that they got caught up in cuddles and disregarded the activity itself.  Because of this, we may want to suggest that, in certain cultural contexts, participants can never touch their friend OR enemy, ensuring that some kind of physical activity takes place.

Calling Over the Mountain 

I explained the importance of our names, especially in contexts where we feel treated like objects.  The women had absolutely no difficulty shouting their names.  They were very loud, and they loved it!  

I added a little something extra to this activity which I thought worked well.  I asked them to imagine that they were standing on a stage in front of the world.  I asked what they would want to say if they were given a single sentence.  They were all eager to share.  Some of them declared their strength or beauty, others testified to their faith or beliefs, and others shouted funny exclamations.  The voices of these women are not often heard, and they loved being able to speak loudly and with conviction. 

Making Group Shapes and Scenes . . . with a Time Limit!

Participants worked in groups of five.  I focused on items that they are very familiar with - the jiko (outdoor stove), nyumbani (house), matatu (bus), and a sofa set.  They really enjoyed using their bodies to represent these items, and they worked well in their teams.  However, because of the stigma against trousers here, the women struggled a little bit with moving around in their long skirts.  I know that this is a challenge in many different areas of the world, but it was definitely something that affected their movement.

A Commercial - Selling Something New

This activity was particularly interesting to me.  I will begin by saying that Kenyans are wonderful public speakers - they have little or no fear of addressing a group.  In fact, they love doing it whenever they get the chance. 

I had tried very hard to explain the word "invention" - an object that doesn't yet exist that would make one's life easier or better.  However, either the word got botched in translation, or the culture is such that they don't think in terms of new objects and gadgets.  Technology is not nearly as prominent here as it is in other places.  Their mindsets are also extremely practical, and they are desperate to make any money that they can to support their children, particularly in terms of school fees.  

When they presented their inventions to the group, almost all of the "inventions" were in the form of possible businesses (basket making, embroidery, selling maize, etc.) that they could set up in the community.  While this was not expected, it attests to their deep desire to become self-sufficient.  We spoke for a while about where they might get the capital to start one of these businesses.  This, of course, is one of their greatest challenges, but we are looking for ways of helping them.

Image Theatre or "Photographs" 

In groups of five, the participants were asked to think of a time when they experienced sadness.  Some of the groups became emotional when telling their stories, and it was great to see the groups counselling and loving one another.  Each story was presented either as an image or as a scene.  The audience was then asked to advise the woman on how to fix or change the situation.  I did not feel that they were ready for foruming the scenes this time around, so they just spoke from their seats.

The stories included:
- A woman was thrown out of her house by her husband.
- The living space of one woman had been thrashed by her landlord.
- One of their children took her school fees and blew it on alcohol and other frivolous items in town.

Unfortunately, we had to stop this activity short.  Two men had entered the room on business, and the women were uncomfortable sharing with them in earshot. 

I concluded the workshop with a self-defense lesson and discussion (30 minutes).  At this point, their bodies were warm and more able to move.  We spoke about precautions that they can take when they are walking along the road at night, and how they might defend themselves if attacked from the front, from the side, and from the back.  They seemed to really appreciate this kind of training.

We sang a good African tune and shared lunch together.  It was a successful session!