Conserving Mother Nature through theatre paying off

13Feb 2018
Edward Qorro
The Guardian
Conserving Mother Nature through theatre paying off

Students of Oldonyowas Primary School might not have heard anything about forum theatre but they can confidentially attest how such stage performance helped them comprehend and acknowledge the effects of climate change.

Seka Group actors on stage performing Forum Theater to Oldonyowas Primary School students. PHOTOS/EDWARD QORRO

Last Wednesday, more than 600 students at the school located on the leeward side of Mt Meru were treated to a forum theater performance by Seka Group (Sukuma for laugh) of Arusha on the realities of climate change effects which were ravaging some parts of the country.

Through the performance where the cast employed a ‘simultaneous dramaturgy, which is a technique in which the audience members have the power to influence the performance, the students, teachers and members from Oldonyowas ward grasped a wealth of knowledge from the 17 minutes performance which highlighted the earth at peril due unforgiving effects of climate change.

Through a participative method, the show allows the public to be involved in the performance, identifying bad habits and practices which are harmful to the environment and the community, such as cutting trees for charcoal production, while coming up with solutions and environmentally-friendly coping strategies. 

 

“Though we were taught by our Geography teachers in class, we didn’t think the problem could be this big,” says Daniel Kitenges, a class seven pupil at the school.

Daniel says he would hear his uncles complain of the frequent droughts that affected Oldonyowas and Oldonyo Sambu areas and how their livestock succumbing to the pangs of climate change but he didn’t actually know the real cause of the problem.

“They complained of reduced rains and drought and how they had to travel long distances in search of water and pasture for the cows,” he adds.

After watching the forum theater performance from Seka Group, Daniel now understands what really has befallen the area.

He alluded the frequent dry spells that have hit the area to cutting down of trees and other human activities.

Daniel hopes to share what he and his colleagues at the school learnt from the performance with their parents in a bid of reversing the situation.

As for Belivia Alex Mathayo, a class six pupil at the same school, she is looking forward to such performances in the near future.

Belivia asserts that this is what the pastoral communities have been missing as they grapple with the pangs of climate change and its adverse effects.

“The actors were so articulate in their performance, if only we had such performances routinely, we could have brought the situation under control,” she says.

The forum theater performance is part of the climate change awareness campaign on the Maasai Steppe implemented by Oikos East Africa, a non Government Organization which promotes the protection of biodiversity and the sustainable use of natural resources as tools to fight against poverty.

The organization is currently carrying out a theatre campaign in 11 primary schools in the Arumeru District, targeting 9,000 school children of Maasai steppe pastoralists in the Oldonyosambu, Oldonyowas and Uwiro Wards.

The activity is part of the ECO-BOMA project, which aims to increase pastoralist communities’ resilience to climate change in the area of Northern Tanzania, funded by the European Union (EU), and part of the Global Climate Change Alliance (GCCA) Tanzania programme.

The project is also is implemented in partnership with the Arusha and Meru District Councils, Oikos East Africa and the Nelson Mandela African Institute of Science and Technology (NM-AIST).

According to Stephen Godlove, ECO-BOMA’s Project Manager the performance by Seka Group was a clear representation of what was really taking place in the area, with the audience getting engaged in righting the wrongs and offering solutions to the existing problems.

 

“Theatre is proven to be one of important and effective means of raising awareness and educating local communities on issues related to their social and economic development”, he explains.

The performances are part of a wider educational campaign which aims to raise awareness about the effects of climate change, and to promote positive practices which can be adopted.

Through the campaign, children, teachers and parents of the Maasai community – entirely dependent on natural resources for their survival – will gain a critical understanding of the current situation in Northern Tanzania, on how severe weather conditions and the reduction of water access are causing problems with livestock, crops and livelihoods.

“The show has been prepared to reflect local cultural and environment settings in order to effectively communicate the awareness and educative messages to the local communities…the campaign aims to educate local communities on the negative impact of climate change and offer practical ways to help communities adapt,” he adds.

Oldonyowas Ward Councilor Elisante Nassari lauds the performance by Seka Group and particularly the initiative by Oikos, saying it resonates well with their context.

According Nassari, the roles by the cast was a true reflection of themselves and what they inflicted on nature.

“We used to have enough rains in the past, but times have changed, danger is looming fast and we might have not seen the worst yet,” he cautions.

Nassari admits that residents of Oldonyowas are to blame for the changes in climatic patterns.

He says: The ones dependable streams are fast diminishing while human population is booming.

While livestock is clearly competing with human beings for survival in the area, Nassari says they are left with no option other than encroach the dense forests located on the foothills of Mt Meru.

Seka Group leader Massanja Pauline Pius alias Baba Africa describes Forum Theater as a useful and effective tool of sending a message while also engaging the recipients of the intended message.

“In the climatic change context, the audience got so engaged that at some point they had the freedom and opportunity to reenact some of the performance in a bid of correcting the mistakes that came to the core,” he says.

Often created from short scenes, Forum Theater allows the audience to suggest different actions for the actors to carry out on-stage in an attempt to change the outcome of what they were seeing.