Question: How can you ensure that people will remember an unfamiliar but important message?
Answer: By finding interesting ways of making it stick in their minds.
One of the ways that the Shaping Demand and Practices project reaches people in rural Bihar with family health communication is through street theatre.
Reaching marginalised communities
In low-literacy societies, street performance is a much-loved traditional way of providing entertainment, information, and, in the best case scenario, changing behaviour. The project uses this familiar old strategy to deliver a new message.
A simple six-character street play called Chaar Gaanth, or Four Knots, is built around a mnemonic to remember key points about preparing for the birth of a baby.
The trick? Tie knots in your handkerchief, scarf, or sari. Each knot serves as a reminder of one important thing to do during pregnancy: register the pregnancy, save money for delivery expenses, identify an institution for delivery and arrange transport there when it is time to deliver.
The play features conversations between family members and friends about the recent birth of a girl child.
The characters are role models, throwing their social authority behind better health behaviours. A masculine and learned army officer, Fauji Chacha, celebrates the birth of a granddaughter as much as he would for a grandson. His wife, Chachi, who used to think that their daughter Titli should have her baby at home, is now convinced that it is safer to deliver in an institution. Chachi listens to the radio programme Khirki Mehendiwali, and interacts with the ASHA health worker.
Titli’s progressive husband, Gaurav, understands that his wife’s pregnancies should be properly spaced. Her caring in-laws get her to take her iron and folic acid pills and tetanus injections, keep a watch for signs of danger to her health, and recommend that she breastfeed the baby.
Keeping it simple, being effective
Most of the 10,000 street theatre performances take place near the periphery of villages, where the most marginalised people, with the least access to media, live.
Men, women and curious children gather at the first sign of a performance. There’s no need for a stage or props apart from a baby-sized doll, a few scarves, and a drum or two to add a bit of punch to the songs.
After the performance, the troupe conducts an interactive question and answer session to ensure that the audience has understood its key points.
Street theatre is a simple, powerful way to drive home messages that will help save lives. It directly targets ordinary villagers – the most important actors in the everyday drama of pregnancy and birth.
The most marginalised communities in rural Bihar have the least access to mainstream media. Folk traditions like street theatre are often the only source of amusement for them. If used effectively, Street Theater can become an engaging source of health information.
A series of three plays were designed to be taken to the same community thrice. Emphasis on frequency instead of reach ensured that audiences remembered health messages.
The plays are structured like a serialised TV drama involving a central cast of characters – Fauji Chacha, a retired army man, his wife Chachi, daughter Titli (pictured), son-in-law Gaurav (pictured) and grand daughter Rangili (pictured).
At the end of each performance, the audience is asked questions on what they have learnt. Those who answer correctly are given a small prize.
A street theatre troupe poses for a post performance photograph. In the last year, BBC Media has engaged and trained local folk and theatre groups to perform 10,000 shows in over 3,300 locations.