- Written by Silvia Mwendia for Kenyakidz
In their studio, tucked away in sweltering heat around the Kitengela Glass workshop, near Ongata Rongai, members of Project Hand Up, a group of puppeteers, re-run a scene from their most-recent show.
“In one week how many people become infected by going to a clinic to be tested?” Asks one character.
“That's easy. Hakuna mtu anaweza pata mdudu juu ya kuenda clinic. They either have it before they go or they don't. So, the answer is no one,” answers another.
Project Hand Up is an edutainment initiative that teaches Kenyan children about HIV/AIDS prevention and stigma using puppet shows. Hand Up is an acronym for Healthy Africa: a New Directive Using Puppets.
Such initiatives are needed because 10 per cent of the 1.6m Kenyans living with HIV/AIDS are children, and only 32.6 are per cent men and 46.9 per cent of women have accepting attitudes towards them, reports the UNAIDS Kenya AIDS Response Progress Report 2014.
The Hand Up team is on a mission to educate the public on the importance of dropping the stigma associated with HIV/AIDS, by ensuring that children are equipped with factual information.
“It is our job to demystify the talk in an age and cultural-appropriate way as we educate our audiences on prevention, stigma reduction and gender equality,” said Darren Collins, the International Director of Project Hand Up.
Sponsored by the Rotary Club, Project Hand Up has produced a one-hour show for primary school children, which it hopes to showcase in 120 schools by March 2016.
Various strides were made in HIV/AIDS education when in 2003 it was made part of the school curriculum.
But, despite the increased awareness, only half of young people between 15 and 24 years have comprehensive knowledge on HIV prevention, as reported in the 2008-09 Demographic Health Survey. As a matter of fact, HIV prevalence is lowest, among people without any schooling at 3.6 per cent, perhaps an indication that the administration of HIV/AIDS education needs to be reviewed .
It is against this backdrop that Project Hand Up hopes to address the sensitive issue of HIV/AIDS stigma while also teaching on prevention and equality. And the adopted mode of instruction is unique.
“Puppets are not real and so they get away with saying uncomfortable things. The other reason we use puppetry is because fiction is a powerful teaching tool which can be easily learned by anyone,” said Collins.
Project Hand Up currently runs a one hour production, which is split into six segments, each with a different story line, but all aimed at teaching kindness for people living with HIV/AIDS, respect for women and people with HIV/AIDS and equality between boys and girls.
The puppet show employs the use of animal characters, which makes it easier to talk to children about sensitive issues. In total, the show has eight characters, among them a married lion couple and two combative monkey friends.
“We use animals to talk about human things because it separates the sexuality even more and we can have more fun with them,” said the Collins.
Currently in their second week of presentation, Project Hand Up has already been to six schools and hopes to do 114 more by March 2016.
This might sound like an uphill task but the group has come up with a structure that might just see them achieve their goal. First, Project Hand-up has two teams running two shows each, totaling four shows per day. Secondly, the team has effectively embraced modern a public address system, which is less bulky and allows for mobility.
“We use a sound system with an ipod playing mp3 recordings. We have a solar battery so we don't have to use grid electricity, and our back-up generator is fitted with silencers. We also use wireless microphones so that no wires are seen running behind stage,” said Collins. The whole system is compact and can fit in the front seat of a car.
In order to produce one show, a crew of around 20 people is required. “The puppeteers are responsible for manipulation-they're the ones who work the puppets. We have a different crew of people make the puppets, as others write the script. We have an entirely different group of people who do the voices,” said Collins.
Currently, Project Hand-Up is only doing shows targeting primary school children, but Collins said that they are working on some material for high school students and communities.
The team plans to start performing the senior-audience shows in five to six weeks time.