Educational drama: Where Abba and Breaking Bad collide

One of the things that’s really impressed me about a good number of the South Africans that I’ve come across is their resourcefulness.

Whether it’s selling goods to people stuck in their cars at traffic lights, coming up with gap-in-the-market ideas for making a few extra rand as a supplement to low pay, or networking like fury in order to get last minute donations to keep an event on track, people always seem to have ideas aplenty.

And just as well in the case of our ‘Too Smart to Start’ educational drama on substance misuse, which finally took place, because our expected funding never materialised.

Various unexpected, last minute demands by our hoped-for sponsors resulted in a busted flush, which led to Lisette and Muriel, two hard-working social workers from Abba, the NGO hosting the event, having to work their contacts in short order to provide everything from money to donated snacks for attendees.

Abba, which means ‘riding piggy-back’ or ‘support’ in Afrikaans, specialises in helping people involved in drug and alcohol abuse within various disadvantaged local Stellenbosch communities.

As a result, the event was considered an important health education project to try and raise awareness of the key issues, which includes the vital role that family and friends have to play in helping their loved ones to stay clean post-rehab.

Although meant for everyone, one of the main target audiences was young people, increasing numbers of whom are now turning to ‘tik’ rather than the more traditional alcohol favoured by their elders.

Awareness-raising

Otherwise known as crystal meth, tik is a cheap, if dangerous-to-make, and take, amphetamine that gives people a euphoric rush, but which can lead to psychosis and brain damage among long-term users.

For further information about the whole scene though, be sure to watch ‘Breaking Bad’, the excellent US TV serial about a chemistry teacher who turns to crystal meth production, which has just added an Emmy for outstanding drama to its raft of other awards.

Anyway, the awareness-raising event in Stellenbosch was Lisette and Muriel’s brainchild and had a key aim of communicating with people on their own terms and in their own language rather than just bombarding them with the often-impenetrable jargon used by many in the caring professions.

Another thing seen to be crucial was ensuring that the event was nice and lively, visual, engaging, and, if possible, even funny, so that the core messages would stick in people’s heads more easily without seeming preachy.

So with that in mind and, after a few false starts, we finally came across the wonderful Educational Theatre Company of the Africa Centre for HIV/AIDS Management at Stellenbosch University.

The Centre undertakes education and research and also operates a number of subsidised community service projects, which meant that we could avail ourselves of its services for free.

And as it happened, they’d just written their own 30-minute production on the very subject of substance abuse, which, with a few minor changes, fitted in perfectly with our needs.

It was, in fact, the second play in their mini-musical repertoire, being a sequel to ‘Lucky the Hero & Lucky Fish’, an educational drama on the issues surrounding HIV and AIDS based around the same characters.

Touching a nerve

Although initially aimed at workers on wine farms in the greater Stellenbosch area, where awareness of such matters has historically been low due to poor literacy levels and geographic isolation, ‘Lucky’ has now been seen by as many as 250,000 people across the country, with similar plans for this one.

And it was fab. Although performed in, what was for me anyway difficult-to-understand, vernacular Afrikaans to 17 year old school children at a local high school in the Idas Valley and to the wider community in Cloetesville’s Eikestad Hall, even I could see that it was a hit.

Amazingly, even the teenagers seemed engaged, listening where they should and laughing in all of the right places – and even taking part in the discussion at the end. They also seemed to really enjoy the fruit juice and snacks on offer too.

The second showing in Cloetesville, despite not benefiting from as much publicity in the shape of fliers and the like as we’d have hoped due to our funds shortage, was packed to the rafters as well – particularly with little ones towards the end when the word got out that there were treats to be had at the close.

But the whole event definitely touched a nerve with some. One local resident, who does a lot of voluntary work in the community herself in the area of substance abuse, said that it brought back her own problematic youth and made her feel grateful that she had found the strength to overcome her own issues so that she could help others.

Her friend, meanwhile, whose daughter is expecting a baby but who has been drinking heavily during the pregnancy, said that she had resolved to sit down and talk to her. Her hope was that she could encourage the teenager to get in touch with Abba in order to get the help she needed.

And that’s great because it would seem to me that, if the events could help to change the life of just one person for the better, then all of the effort would totally have been worth it.

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