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Puppeteers use unlikely method to teach about HIV & AIDS in Kenya
Project HAND UP! is currently fundraising to develop HIV prevention and AIDS education presentations in Swahili for use in East Africa
Project HAND UP!
1516 Osprey Drive Suite 208
Desoto, TX 75115
Contact: Galen Douglas
(541) 678-2451 (cell)
November 1, 2013 Desoto, TX — The worldwide effort to slow and ultimately stop the transmission of HIV and AIDS is ongoing. Community groups, grant giving organizations, foundations and charitable groups are constantly raising funds to send doctors, medical supplies, and resources to Sub-Saharan Africa, easily the most highly affected area of the world.
However, one group has noticed an important aspect of these campaigns that has largely been underfunded. Education. Puppeteer and stand-up comedian Darren Collins has taken a novel approach to meeting the educational needs of people in this part of the world, specifically in Kenya. “The greatest roadblock to getting people tested, receiving medical treatment and adapting prevention techniques is the stigmatization of AIDS,” Collins says. “It has been demonized so much, that people are afraid to step forward. They are afraid to even be seen approaching a clinic.” The solution is education. Collins uses puppets.
HIV and AIDS is proving itself to be a social problem, as much as it is a medical problem in parts of Africa. Myths surrounding the epidemic are rampant, millions of orphaned children with HIV are growing up in a world where no one wants anything to do with them. Collins started an organization called Project HAND UP that addresses these issues by using informative puppet shows.
“Essentially you have a situation where it is socially taboo to talk about openly sexually transmitted disease. As a result, the resources that other organizations provide go unused because people do not have proper education to utilize the technology and services that have been provided. Children and adults who have HIV are ostracized, they are outcasts.” Puppets have the unique ability to say things in public that might otherwise be considered too frightening or simply socially unacceptable.
“We put on highly informative and extremely entertaining presentations that people actually enjoy watching,” Collins continues. “Everybody likes puppets, when they talk, people listen.”
And the organization is no laughing matter. Using techniques common in the world of circus, an advance team goes to a village, networks with local groups and promotes the show that is coming to town. They arrive, put on several presentations at churches, schools and community gathering places and people respond to the message. Instead of clowns, jugglers, and acrobats this group uses puppets and magic tricks to hold the audiences attention and share tangible, vital information using storytelling and visual effects. And, instead of seeking high ticket and popcorn sales, the goal is to reach an entire community with lessons that demystify HIV and get people to act on the information the receive.
The most common problems facing East African communities are:
1. Children who are born with HIV have no parents, and are abandoned by family
2. Condom use is under-utilized
3. People are afraid to get tested or be seen going into clinics
4. People don’t understand how transmission really works
5. Myths about AIDS make it hard to prevent
The puppet shows break down the social barriers and teach:
1. That children born with HIV are not cursed, and require love and affection
2. That AIDS is preventable by abstinence, being faithful to your partner, and condom use
3. That getting tested is vital and is not a shameful act
4. That anti-retroviral drugs are available and can help you live a long life if you are HIV positive
5. That mother to child transmission is preventable with proper care.
This isn’t Collins’ first rodeo. He helped develop puppet shows about water born illness in South East Asia that was met with great success in 2001. The group of puppeteers he taught are still working and promoting germ theory education over a decade later. “It’s amazing how well a good puppet show can be used to communicate scientific concepts in storytelling cultures,” says Collins. Indeed story and myth are powerful tools to teach ideas, and even more powerful at getting audiences to adapt the ideas into their own lives.
During their first trip to Kenya Project HAND UP! received a lot of attention. TV stations put Collins on popular morning shows, transfixed by the puppets and eager to learn more. After his appearances organizations sent him requests from all over the country. People caught the vision and understood that education was the key component to curtailing the high rate of transmission in East Africa.
“By training up several teams of puppeteers, we can literally reach thousands of people a day. And it works. Drama groups who do this work already exist in Kenya, but our work is more nimble, replicable and requires less infrastructure to reach audiences,” says Collins.
Collins has been doing educational performing arts since 1997 in schools and churches across the USA and in nearly 20 countries. The biggest challenge to doing the work in Africa is getting funding. “As we continue our campaign, they best way people can help is financially. Safety is a concern, so our offices and vehicles must be secure and reliable so my puppeteers can do their work without worry. It takes money, but I love the challenge of making the dollar stretch. The opportunity to create social change and save lives is unrivaled here in Kenya.” continues Collins.
“The fact is that performance art is demonstrably effective to communicating life saving, concrete ideas. I found that I am oddly well suited to dealing with the difficulties of developing world aid work. And now I that I get to do it full time, it makes me feel like maybe all those nights spent in comedy clubs honing the skill wasn’t in vein. This work is even MORE satisfying than laughter and applause.”
Collins has taught 20,000 puppeteers around the world. When in the USA he can be seen at the Improv Comedy Club on weekends in Dallas and Arlington and is a popular speaker for local TED talks.
About Project HAND UP!
Project HAND UP! stands for “Healthy Africa: a New Directive Using Puppets”
Project HAND UP! takes a culturally appropriate, non-threatening, and entertaining approach to educating large groups of people with information about HIV/AIDS that they can act on immediately.
We support the international goal of “zero new infections” by bringing life-saving information to East African people in unforgettable ways.