It was amazing to see even small day schools investing in film to tell their stories to the world during the Kenya National Film Festival for schools and colleges held at Tafaria Castle & Centre for the Arts.
St Augustine’s High School Mlolongo, a public day school at the heart of Mlolongo town chose an extraordinary way of telling the world their challenges in a town riddled by prostitution and drug abuse.
In an the era where people are complaining that most of the researches done for masters and PhD degrees are not solving problems, Jerusha Kananu Marete, a teacher at St Augustine Mlolongo High School, went against that assertion and utilised her area of research to raise awareness on social evils affecting students at her school .
St Augustine Mlolongo’s documentary was titled “Guidance and counselling through forum theatre.
Theatre of the oppressed
Forum theatre is a type of theatre created by Brazilian innovative and influential film director Augusto Boal, one of the techniques under the umbrella term of Theatre of the oppressed (TO).
This relates to the engagement of spectators with the performance as both spectators and actors, termed "spect-actors", with the power to stop and change the performance.
For the first time, theatre for development has found its way in festivals through film.
Struggles and resilience
The documentary carries deep stories of struggles and resilience of students who narrate how prostitution has affected them. One boy narrates how he was forced by an elderly woman to sleep with her and later she introduces him to pornography.
“It was hard to help the boy who was already addicted to pornography but eventually the boy got over it. Working with Madam Kananu's theatre team has eased the burden in counselling,” said Mrs Rosemary Radinah, the head of guidance and counselling St Augustine Mlolongo High School.
Another case cited in the documentary was that of a girl in Form Four who was coerced by her mother to be sleeping with a truck driver whom the mother had been sleeping with since the mother was getting old and sickly. She told the girl to “take over” so that the man could continue providing for them.
“These are but a few of the many challenges these students face daily, not to mention the dangers of possible assaults girls face as they come to school in the morning from some truck drivers and casual labourers working in many companies surrounding the school,” said Mr Andrew Kwale, a former principal St Augustine’s Mlolongo.
Embraced forum theatre
Getting overwhelmed by the challenges of the drugs which are peddled around the school, St Augustine’s Mlolongo embraced Ms Marete’s idea of forum theatre to help in counselling.
In the performance captured in the documentary, students are seen working together to solve their daily problems through the participatory theatre.
“The students learn as they get entertained and it is the most effective way of sensitising them. The school will keep using this theatre entity to raise awareness as most of these students come from poor backgrounds in the slums.
“Any support given to them goes a long way. Some get involved with these men because of simple things like sanitary pads and food. Any help given to them means a lot," said Mr Bernard Muthuku, the principal of St Augustine Mlolongo.
Ms Marete is a student at Kenyatta University awaiting to graduate with her master’s degree. Her research topic is “Use of forum theatre to raise awareness on gender-based violence “.
Even before graduation, her forum theatre expertise is being used at St Augustine Mlolongo High School to raise awareness on prostitution and drug abuse.
“This theatre for development entity is highly effective if the participants understand the theory and practice of forum theatre,” said Ms Marete.