In a high school auditorium in Rutana, Burundi, 1500 young people squeezed together for a theater play in late 2014. The popularity was somewhat unexpected; organizers from the Rutana Youth Center and Society of Women Against Aids in Africa (SWAA) had anticipated 900 people would attend. The play titled “Those who refuse to take good advice, can expect bad things to happen” was written and performed to change attitudes and behavior around sexual and reproductive health, as well as increase the uptake of health services in that area.
Boy meets girl
The play depicts the lives of a boy and a girl who are head over heels in love. They are sexually active, but refuse to use contraceptives because they believe it will encourage infidelity in their relationship. Despite the advice given to them by peer educators they continue to have unprotected sex.
The inevitable happens, the girl becomes pregnant. Both are expelled from school and the situation spirals out of control. The boy is outcast by his family because they feel humiliated by the pregnancy outside of marriage. He starts using drugs and later learns that he has HIV. The girl is left alone as a single mother, also HIV positive.
In the end, a brave young peer educator from a local Stop AIDS club takes an interest in the couple. She helps them find the healthcare they need and helps them rebuild their lives and reconnect with their families.
Theater for Development
Theater, dance and music are effective interventions to make people question and consider their attitudes and behavior. The activities are developed, planned and executed by the community using the local culture and language. The effect, therefore, is empowering. It is a strategy used widely in the SRH Next Generation program to promote comprehensive information on sexual and reproductive health.
Lessons to take home
The play aimed to touch upon various issues: the importance of attending sessions with peer educators, the risks of unprotected sex, the right of young mothers to go back to school and the availability of youth friendly health services. The story is not fictional for many Burundian youth. It is or could become their reality.
Besides many young people, the play was also attended by a representative of SWAA Burundi, the Cordaid team and head of projects, as well as local government officials. After the play there was some room for questions and discussion. The play was received enthusiastically by the audience. Some young people noted afterwards that the play should be shown more widely in the area, and that it contained valuable lessons on safe sexual behavior.