Phan Y Ly

Theatre for development- from a vietnamese practitioner's view

Location: Vietnam

Born in 1981, Phan Y Ly is the first Vietnamese woman to study MA Theatre for Development. She has 4 years of experience in development work and community theatre with UNDP, international organisations in Vietnam and abroads. Ly is now a freelance consultant on using arts for individual and social transformation in Vietnam and a co-moderator of the Art for Development Vietnam e-list. Besides community work, Ly is also the founder of SameStuff Theatre, a contemporary theatre group based in Hanoi.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Hopeful youth of Kibera Slum - Continue

Because the group has a great passion for using arts in their work and have been performing self-written plays for 2 years, and because they believe in “edutainment”, my “secret” plan was to give them a “push” to try out Interactive theatre and Forum theatre in the community. I did not openly discuss this with Fredrick because I wanted the situation and opportunity to speak for itself. On the 5th of February 2005, I arrived in Nairobi, Kenya and went to Kibera for the first time.

Kibera – “A dirty secret along railway embankments…”

Kibera can’t be found on a tourist map or any other map. It’s an illegal city and nearly a third of the population of Nairobi lives there. The name “Kibera” is a Nubian word meaning “bush”. The “bush” has been forgotten by the government, and yet is has been around for nearly a century. Following successful service during World War I, the British colonial government awarded a wooded hillside outside of Nairobi to a group of Nubian soldiers who eventually settled there. The soldiers built homes and set up businesses, all without any legal rights to the land.

Unfortunately, the British never gave title to the land to the Nubians, so the residents of Kibera do not qualify for any government assistance. However, title never stopped the refugees from coming. And come they did, pouring in from not only the Kenyan countryside as villagers seeking employment, but also from neighboring countries. One could type the keyword “Kibera” in a search engine and find thousands of articles on the world’s second largest slum, all describing it as “a forest”, “pile of rubbish - a clutter of cardboard and cloth on a damp pavement”, “ a cramped and filthy squatters camp”, “a dirty secret along railway embankments” where “….the Nairobi police are reportedly too afraid to patrol Kibera”, “nearly half of the population is young people” and “approximately one quarter of Kibera's population is HIV positive”.

….Or not

“In one of the largest slums in Sub-Saharan Africa, Kibera, where majority live below the poverty datum line, everyone would expect to meet frown faces with lots of despair, this is not the case to be”, said Fredrick, “there is a ray of hope coming from a group of energetic and innovative youth who are ready to go an extra mile in serving their community needs.”

“It was after a great concern that we youth came together, to form the group: Kibera Community Youth Programme. We were not represented and therefore had nobody to listen to our voice or our cry. The need for coming together was necessitated by the fact that, we had common problems that called for unity towards addressing them,” expressed Mehrab Florence Adhiambo. She is 25 year old and has been with the group for the past three years. ‘With lack of employment, there was a need to engage ourselves in different activities that would make us occupied and self-reliant as opposed to letting the adults do it for us.” Merhab’s personal contribution to this article is included at the end; along with Fredrick’s personal contribution.

The group consists of 25 regular members with the youngest being 18 years old and eldest being 25 years old. There are ten ladies and fifteen gents and the number are not definite as there are always more new members coming. Commitment is one of the criteria for being accepted in the group. Approximately 60% of the population in Kibera are young people who can’t continue to higher education because of financial constraints. These constraints in turn exclude them from official employment.

According to Fred, “KCYP is therefore trying to engage youth whom it recruits as volunteers/members in self-reliance activities that enable them to stay afloat and meet some of their essential basic needs. There are five programs that form the bulk of KCYP`s work, these are: youth development and empowerment, reproductive health, arts for development and social change, environment and sanitation and special programs.”

Right from my first day visiting and attending the group’s performance and rehearsal, I could see the passion and talents that each member possesses. And just as my experience with their web site, I experienced the same combination of amateurism and determination in the group’s drama performance. KCYP was partnered with Population Service International (PSI) and performed plays in different communal areas in Kibera. As required by PSI, their plays had to give clear and spoken messages of “Abstinence”, as well as promote the slogan “Chill” (which means not having sex before marriage) to the community. Every afternoon the actors will gather at their office in Kibera and walk together to the performing area pre-selected for that day. These places are often markets, large empty spaces with many by passers, or even any crowded roads, depending on where it is, sometime the actors may have to walk as far as 5 kms.

KCYP’s office cum rehearsal place is a humble shelter made of mud, tree branches, and tin roof, locating in a so-called “upper class Kibera” which means less mud, more street vendors, bigger lanes, stronger houses, and with spare electricity. The group members told me they wanted to develop “drama” and “self-evaluation skills” so that they would not have to rely on PSI’s TfD expert to come twice a month and point out their mistakes. They also dream of becoming famous actors and actresses and that their theatre group will earn lots of money.


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