Making a Difference
The Global Service Corps Tanzania Program in HIV/AIDS
The author wrote and directed this play, " Wanawake Jukwaani" or "Women Center State," to address women's issues while in Tanzania.
The first four weeks of my time with Global Service Corps in Tanzania, I facilitated AIDS awareness lectures with the two other volunteers. Every lecture began with speeches and prayer. In Tanzania it seems that everything begins and ends with a ceremony.
The teaching was extremely fulfilling. It confirmed how misinformed and unaware Africans are about HIV prevention. It also introduced me to one of the major contributors to the AIDS crisis in Africa: the status of women. The blatant oppression of women in Tanzania is undeniable, and its effects create many of the problems facing the country today, especially in the fight against AIDS. It’s almost a waste of time to teach a group of women how to protect themselves against HIV when they don’t even have the right to protect themselves against rape and sexual abuse.
Once it was time to begin my long-term project, I decided to focus on women’s issues. Using the various stories told to me by Tanzanian women, I wrote and produced a play about the obstacles African women face and the profound results achieved by making positive choices. “Wanawake Jukwaani” (Women Center Stage) confronted the issues of sexual assault, HIV transmission, education for women, child abuse, spousal abuse, and teenage sex. I wrote the play in English, then had it translated into Swahili.
The cast and crew were made up of local youth groups, women’s groups, and volunteers from a local Maasai village. Every day my translator and I went to one of the groups’ meeting places to rehearse the play, discuss why the cultural changes it dealt with are so important. We didn’t always see eye to eye on the issues, but we always respected each other’s opinions and appreciated each other’s comments.
The cast of the play ended up to be more than 50, half of whom were men who constantly tried to change the play to “Wanawume Jukwaani” (Men Center Stage). Sometimes men would try to play a woman’s part because she had more lines. The Maasai men even tried changing their story to make all of the women die and the men survive. I had to constantly remind everyone that the play was about women!
To promote the play, I posted flyers all over Arusha and handed out invitations (in Swahili) to every woman I saw. There was no dress rehearsal because none of the groups wanted the other groups to see their performance until the day of the play.
Miraculously, “Wanawake Jukwaani” was a huge success. All of the performers showed up on time. The play started only a half hour late, which is pretty good by African standards. There were over 200 people in the audience. All of the performers were spectacular, and the audience participation was fantastic.
In addition to the performance I began writing a column for the Arusha Times called “Women Center Stage.” In the beginning the column elaborated on the topics presented in the play, but now that I’m back in California I use it to confront a myriad of issues African women face. It’s a great way to still feel connected to Tanzania.
Before I left for Africa a woman asked me, “Do you really think you are going to make a difference there?” How can one person actually make an impact? Why was I going to Africa anyway?
Now I know how easy it is to make a difference, the easiest thing I’ve ever done. Being a part of something bigger than yourself, feeling that your actions positively impact the lives of other people is an extraordinary experience. The four months I spent in Tanzania were the happiest, most fulfilling months of my life and the experience gave me a new outlook on life.
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