In September 2011, students and PLWHA (people living with HIV/AIDS), inspired by their experience in the MAKE ART/STOP AIDS (MASA) project, stepped up to serve as facilitators leading nine community groups through MASA workshops including: a group of chiefs, a women’s group, youth clubs, juveniles from a reformatory school, a PLWHA support group, drumbeaters, and more.
In the workshops, the community groups engaged with HIV and AIDS-related issues that were most relevant to them. Topics ranged from gender violence, to sexual exploitation on the tobacco estates in the area, to stigma and fear of VCT and more. In the end, community groups created their own short performances of drama, music, dance, and display of art works, and these were showcased in a festival, the culminating event of the project.
The festival alone attracted over 1,200 people, excited and curious to see what members of their own community had to say. The community groups brought bold and vibrant performances to the stage. The festival was warmly received with attention, cheers, and laughter in all the right places.
Perhaps the most touching act was performed by the PLWHA support group. The PLWHA group strongly agreed that the chiefs were not doing enough to assist PLWHA and address HIV/AIDS. However, the group wanted to present their argument in a way that would not be offensive to or alienate the chiefs. Working through metaphor, the group achieved a careful balance by offering a drama about a couple who experience stigmatizing behavior by their neighbors and decide to report it to the chief. The chief calls a meeting for the whole community and makes it clear that this kind of behavior is unacceptable. He punishes the stigmatizers with a fine. The neighbors realize their mistake and apologize to the couple. On the festival day, the real chiefs were in the audience and this was a powerful moment where PLWHA raised their collective concerns to the chiefs. At the end of the PLWHA act, one man from the support group stood in front of the audience and publically disclosed his HIV positive status (a very rare display of courage), saying that he “works and is stronger than many who consider themselves healthy.” The audience erupted in applause for him, and he left the stage with a beaming smile, throwing his fists to the air in a triumphant gesture.