One intriguing way of getting health messages across to communities who are illiterate and whose spoken language may not even have words to describe the medical concept, is to entertain them. Travelling theatre groups in Africa sing or act out AIDs prevention stories, board games educate children on climate or help mothers cope with domestic violence, and, not to be left out, there is now an online game that can support the fight against hunger (see UN food aid agency helps create online game to fight hunger)
Another way is storytelling with puppets and I am going to tell you about the work of one particular company No Strings.
Puppets of varying levels of sophistication are found in many cultures (see Wikipedia-puppetry), from shadow puppets on rods “walking on water” to glove puppets and marionettes with strings. To most of us in Europe they are thought of as historical novelties, for children to laugh at, or linked to folk art such as in the Czech Republic: it’s forgotten that they once satirised society for adults. Puppeteers in the French revolution were imprisoned & I believe Czech puppet-theatre commented on life in the USSR where others dared not.
With the exception of the 1970s and 1980s, puppet shows in the West are linked to holidays and entertaining young children. What happened in the1970’s? The Muppet Show! For a decade via TV and film it reached worldwide audiences of adults as well as children. Oh how I loved that show. Mid 1980s it was displaced in the UK by the political TV satire, Spitting Images, using latex puppets.
With the advent of those plasticine characters Wallace and Gromit, you may think the Muppets had stepped back into homely children’s TV land. But not a bit of it.
No Strings, is a film production company set up by humanitarian experts and the co-creators of the original Muppet Show and Fraggle Rock. Rosie Waller of NO Strings told the list serv community HIFA2015 that “It makes films around life-saving messages for vulnerable children and communities around the world, covering a wide range of disasters and emergencies”.
Their films are made available via some very well-known international NGOs such as Oxfam, World Vision, and Save the Children. They have a series of preparedness and safety films (South East Asia), three HIV-awareness films (sub-Saharan Africa), landline awareness (Afghanistan), and child protection, psychosocial and public health films for Haitian children.
The HIV films are designed to “encourage discussion and reflection, and influence attitudes towards key issues around HIV, namely risk reduction, gender equality, stigma and the importance of voluntary testing”. Translated so far into 5 African languages plus French, they are now being used in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Ethiopia, DRC, Angola, Mozambique and Zimbabwe.
The 3 public health films for children in Haiti will be shot in January 2012 in partnership with CRS (Catholic Relief Service) and will deal with public health issues linked to solid and faecal waste disposal, as well as trauma and child protection. Future projects could include making their films available in Philippine schools as part of the national curriculum.
The Health Show on BBC World is to run a 26 part series on global health, exploring medical and scientific advances and new innovative solutions used to improve health care around the world……and I for one hope they feature the innovative work of No Strings.
I know I’ve done my part. Not only have I written this blog but this month’s issue of our free e-newsletter Global Health Knowledge Base was inspired by No Strings and focuses on innovative ways of getting public health messages across to underserved children & communities.
If you want to read further about the intriguing use of puppets and games to deliver “messages” then why dear reader don’t you join the newsletter today! Just follow the link “Subscribe to Newsletter” and not only will you get the latest research, news and blogs but also one week’s free access to our public health database Global Health. You might even be invited to contribute a blog!