Few are the men who can lay claim to putting their arms around Miss Alicia Keyes. Of those lucky souls only one comes from Nakuru, Kenya and that man is Dennis Kimambo.
Dennis is the founder of Repacted Kenya, a community group in Nakuru that uses participatory theater to teach young people about AIDS and social issues. He and his colleague, Collins, were kind enough to meet up with me on a stopover between Kampala and Nairobi and explain how they use community theater to realize social change.
As I understand it, a few veteran members of the group will head out to one of Nakuru’s neighboring rural communities and organize a skit that approaches issues relevant to the community. For example, two volunteers might start a skit in which they discuss the previous evening where they saw the boyfriend of a friend of theirs flirting with a girl they suspect might have AIDS. What’s the responsible action to take? They don’t want to start rumors when they’re not sure if the girl does in fact have AIDS and yet they want to protect the health of their friend. So, what to do?
Rather than lecturing to the young people gathered around the Repacted Kenya actors, they get them involved. There is role playing. Boys are forced to understand the perspective of the girls and vise-versa. In the end, the answers get talked out and acted out. In this way, the participants can rely on their experiences for when the real situation takes place.
It’s similar to what Hector Aristizabal does with his ImaginAction theater group. In fact, Dennis and Collins told me that many similar “Magnet Theatre” community groups are popping up all over the developing world and they’re hoping that, by using blogs and YouTube videos, they’ll be able to network and learn from each other despite the distance between them.
They’ve already experimented in this field a bit with the new media group www.jumptochangetheworld.org, but internet access is costly and new computers are out of reach for Repacted’s small budget.
You can read more about Repacted Kenya’s approach to Magnet Theater by taking a look at Dennis’ description of their work at a Nakuru prison earlier this year.
Dennis will be in New York City later this month, where we’re hoping to meet up once again. If you’d like to meet him and learn how to support his work, I’m sure we could organize a dinner. Feel free to leave a comment or email me.