A street play draws attention to protection of health care workers in South Sudan
Volunteer actors from South Sudan Red Cross perform a weekly theatre drama where they raise awareness of the importance of protecting health-care workers and facilities.
Every Friday, 12 to 15 volunteers perform an hour-long street play. The project, which was initiated by the Health Care in Danger project, began in April 2017. South Sudan Red Cross already have a theatre group with 35 to 40 volunteers who normally use role play to educate people on different topics. The locations for the play are different every week and normally there are nine actors and three technicians.
“The play is about a local chief. One day, his pregnant wife eats castard (*a local sweet dish) and falls sick. He commands his guards to go to the hospital to get a doctor. It ends with the guards attacking the hospital and stealing the wrong medicine. Because they don’t know how to use the medicine, the wife and another patient die,” Akuei explained. He is the team leader of the street play and has also contributed to the script.
Normally, the play starts with loud music and dancing. This is done to attract attention and get people to gather around. The actors change costumes in their car while they get ready to perform at a market place in Wau town.
“I chose to become part of this group because if you only tell people a message they might not listen. If you give them the information in a play, they will remember. Some people really like the drama and after the show they come up to us to tell us that they want to change their behavior after watching the performance,” Arnesta said.
Peter Maurer, the ICRC president, was invited to see the play while visiting Wau. “Even though I couldn’t understand the words, I was able to understand the story of the drama through the reactions of the people here,” he said.
“When we are performing the play, a lot of people get excited. They laugh at the beginning but when we get to the part where the hospital gets attacked, people’s mood changes. Some even start to cry,” Youhana, one of the actors, said.
Once the music starts playing and the actors start dancing, a lot of people gather around to see what is happening. Dancing is one of the most important ways to express feelings in South Sudan.
“In Wau, we are still in the middle of a conflict. It is very important that people go to the hospital when they are wounded and that the hospital be a safe place where the doctors can work freely,” said Akuei. He greeted the ICRC president after the play.
“I joined this theatre group because I think it is the only way to pass our messages to the public. I really hope that people understand the message about health care in danger. Wau is still volatile and hospitals are always targets,” Youhana said.
Attacks on health-care workers, patients and medical facilities remain a major challenge in South Sudan. Violence that prevents the delivery of health care claims a high human cost. Civilians and fighters often die from their injuries because of the lack of safe access to health care.
“Theatre is like a mirror. It is a place where people can see their mistakes and reflect on them. When we pass a message and people see bad things happening, they might also ask themselves, ‘Why did the Sultan do this?’ I really believe that people can learn from what they see in this play,” Akuei said. He portrays the character of Sultan and is also the team leader.
“Health care in danger is an issue which is very dear to us at the ICRC. Violence against health-care workers and medical facilities is something we are experiencing in many parts of the world. I’m very impressed by how the actors are able to put this into a realistic drama,” Mr Maurer said.