“I didn’t know a performance could give us life.”
— Audience member, Makwapala, December 2011
The MAKE ART / STOP AIDS (MASA) rural program brings together people living with HIV, local community artists, leaders and general members of the community, in an intensive 20 day long process of engagement and creativity, culminating in a community event that addresses HIV and AIDS at the community level. Using the Process and Collaboration for Empowerment and Discussion (PACED) model developed by Galia Boneh (Boneh and Jaganath, American Journal of Public Health, 2011), participants critically explore contextual issues of HIV and AIDS, share personal stories and finally create a performance for the entire community, culminating in the creation of community action plans. AGHC Africa is continually exploring and refining the model for the MASA Rural Program with the intention of distributing and disseminating training around the replicable model for use throughout Malawi. Our goal is for the MASA Rural Program to serve as an exemplary asset-based community driven model for HIV and AIDS contextual exploration and health education in rural communities.
The first project, This is My Story, was carried out through the UCLA Program in Global Health at Chancellor College. Research conducted a year after the project demonstrated the retention of major themes among both participants and audience members, empowerment of both PLWHA and student participants, and greater discussion among students on the university campus (Jaganath et al, Health Educaiton Reserach, 2013).
We developed the model to include deeper engagement with the audience and worked with third-year drama students from Chancellor College and six PLWHA. Through the PACED model we created a powerful musical drama based on real life stories. The performance concluded with personal testimonies of PLWHA and students. The intervention took place in the villages surrounding the Makwapala Health Center, 25 km out of Zomba. After performing in two different locations in the community, team members (students and PLWHA) facilitated a series of workshops with community groups for them to create their own short performances. The intervention culminated in a festival of all community groups’ performances (see Video). The performances and festival attracted over 1,000 people each. Over 150 people participated in daily workshops for a week, and performed at the festival, thereby becoming active agents of change in their community.
We refined the model further. Three facilitators joined the community for an intensive 20 day process, engaging local people living with HIV, community artists, leaders and members of the community. The creative process culminated in a community-wide performance leading to the creation of community action plans, and complemented by mobile HIV testing.
The program took place in Govala, 30 km out of Zomba, nearby Makwapala. Mobile testing during the community event was provided by Dignitas International.
Monitoring and evaluation of the MAKE ART / STOP AIDS projects demonstrates that the events in the community achieved their goal of stirring up conversation on HIV and AIDS-related issues, changing the perception of people living with HIV and AIDS and giving hope to counter the fear of testing (West, 2012, Jaganath, 2013) . An audience member, one of many who went to get tested because of the intervention, said, “I never knew a performance could give us life.” After falling sick on and off for months, this woman found the courage to get tested, started receiving treatment, and was finally feeling healthy and strong. But the most important impact of the project was on the participants themselves. For many of the participants, this was a life-changing experience. For the students in the 2011 project, this experience was key in shaping their identities and careers, and many of them have moved on to design and implement their own projects (see Students With Dreams). The participating people living with HIV have also been empowered through this project. Read how Luka and Credo’s lives have been transformed through their participation in the MAKE ART/STOP AIDS project:
Luka, a participant in the 2008 This is My Story, was a cleaner in a hospital when he joined the project. Through his participation he became eager to do more meaningful work, and he gained confidence in himself and his capabilities. After the project he decided to undergo an HIV counseling course, and after less than a year there was a job opening for a community educator at the hospital where he worked. Luka applied and got the job. His job includes teaching patients about adherence, following up on patients in the community, running kids clubs, and advising support groups. He enjoys greater satisfaction from this job, a better wage, and constant praise from his employers.
Credo was very anxious about working with college students when she joined the 2011 project. She had wondered how she, an uneducated woman, would be able to interact with them. But on the last day of the project she shared with the group that through the friendships she formed with the students she has become confident and felt inspired to go back to school and complete her secondary education. This news was received with cheers and hugs, and it was immediately decided that the group would raise money to pay her school fees. Each student contributed and, indeed, a week later Credo started school. Following her example, seven adults from her community have also gone back to school. Reflecting on the experiences of stigma Credo had shared in the creative process, it gives the group a special sense of pride and joy to see her becoming a role model and source of inspiration in her community. Some of the students have volunteered to act as her tutor in subjects she needs help with, and they call her from time to time to encourage her.