Dr Dina Romo is a Resident Doctor from Mount Sinai Global Health Center who spent a month collaborating with the Ecohealth program. Here she describes her work organizing a youth theater group for a special performance for April 7th for Mozambican Women's Day that focused on Gender Based Violence, HIV and Family Planning. The event took place in Vila de Gorongosa and was organized by local government officials, who invited local associations and groups to contribute cultural and educational pieces to the event. The Gorongosa Restoration Project via the Ecohealth program organized a theater performance, a dance, and a soccer match. The day was a huge celebration with participation from the District Administrator, President of the Municipality, Director of Education, the Police Chief and hundreds of community members. There was also a march through town, two friendly soccer games (one for men and one for women), and a celebratory lunch for park staff and partners. Female community health workers (APEs) and traditional birth attendants joined in the festivities as well.
Photo: Gorongosa National Park staff performing a traditional dance.
Photo: Gorongosa National Park soccer team won the friendly soccer match. We are also working with members of the soccer team to spread HIV prevention messages among young men.
As a budding Pediatrician and future Adolescent Medicine Doctor, I jumped at the opportunity to work with the adolescent theatre group, JUNTOS, to educate and help empower the community about health issues. I was a bit skeptical at first since teenagers often prove themselves to be difficult to engage on “serious” issues. JUNTOS, however proved me wrong from the moment I met them.
We first met on our bus ride to a local village primary school where they would perform a skit in celebration of World Forest Day. Twenty-plus high school students piled on into the back of our small minibus and before our driver changed gears to put us in motion, this group of teenagers displayed themselves as a spirited, energetic and lively bunch. I found myself tapping my feet to their rhythm as they sang and danced in their seats the whole way to our destination. They poured out of the bus as they were greeted by dozens of children who welcomed them with their own salutation song. Rather than simply standing and listening, JUNTOS did what they know how to do best and joined in on the entertainment. They were able to energize the crowd of children but most importantly when it came time for their performance, they were able to fully engage them to deliver their message for the day. From then on, my doubts vanished. They were the perfect messengers to engage a community.
Photo: Dr. Dina Romo with members of JUNTOS theater group during a theater practice session.
The next show on the road would take place on Mozambican Women’s Day. We seized the opportunity to perform on a community stage to spread a message about Gender Based Violence, Family Planning and HIV Testing. We worked closely with the theater teachers, the domestic violence police unit, and the students to make sure that the themes and messages were clear and relatable to our audience. The students worked tirelessly and enthusiastically to get their parts just right, and this they did.
They told a story unfortunately lived by many: a family with more children than there are resources, a mother who wants the best for her children, wishes which are only met by the mental and physical abuse of a dominating husband who demands obedience with a stick in hand. The story goes on as the mother loses her baby as an unfortunate but real consequence of domestic violence. She also discovers she is HIV positive likely transmitted from acts of infidelity of her husband. The matrona (traditional birth attendant) is the heroin of the story as she devotes herself to a suffering wife and mother as she helps her to find protection from local authorities, guides her to the hospital for care of her mental and physical wounds. This story may overwhelm some, but its purpose is to expose these issues and “lay them out in the open” so that the audience and community may gain a sense of awareness that there is help and resources available for these issues. Most importantly, it empowers those suffering in silence, assuring them that their voices too can and shall be heard.
Photo: JUNTOS preforming on the community stage in front of district officials and community members.
As the theater group finally took the stage in Vila de Gorongosa on Woman’s day, there was a buzz and distraction among the crowded audience but the moment our first student actor went into character, eyes shifted and the attention focused to the stage, the actors, and most importantly their message. As the show went on, it was clear that the audience followed and was captivated by JUNTOS' performance. The audience exploded with applause as JUNTOS gave their final bow and walked off the stage. Humbly, I applaud them as well, as they proved themselves not to be the immature adolescents many mistake this age group to be, rather they proved themselves to be mature community educators and advocates. They live up to their name, “Juntos” which means “Together,” and together with them we hope to continue spreading our message, one community at a time.
By Dr. Dina Romo