This year’s Malaria campaign is an example of Netos de Bandims’ approach to community education. In this case we worked with UNICEF to educate over 2000 families in 10 Bissau neighborhoods about malaria prevention and protection. The project enabled over 100 young people of the dance group to learn about malaria and to exercise leadership through teaching their community about malaria prevention. The campaign focused on changing attitudes and behaviors about malaria through ethnic dances, street theater, music, poetry, and community dialogues. In this manner the group has the added impact of preserving cultural practices. More importantly, the approach encourages pride and appreciation for various cultural dance forms and other cultural traditions, which helps to promote ethnic tolerance and social cohesion. These campaigns enable the youth to take leadership in social change processes and to educate their elders on more healthy living practices. In this way the program is helping shape a new generation of community leaders with an updated understanding of current challenges and new approaches for addressing community issues.
The issues of concern to the communities of Guinea-Bissau are not always the same issues of concern to the international donors that work in the country. Netos de Bandim has learned to work with the objectives of the international donors and still use those opportunities to also work on the issues that are of concern to our group. These issues include: preserving culture and traditions, strengthening social cohesion and peace in communities, fostering awareness about the rights and needs of children, and encouraging youth participation in social change efforts. Although the issues are generally determined by international donor agendas, Netos de Bandim is very adept at working with these organizations to find synergistic opportunities and capitalize on them to accomplish as much as possible for the communities.
Netos de Bandim has a strong core leadership group that is adept at preparing project proposals according to donor community expectations. Netos de Bandim has extensive experience in designing community education campaigns that use dance, theater, music, and poetry to convey public education messages. We are extremely adept at designing theater performances that get key messages across in a way that the Guinean public will understand and accept. This is more of an art than a skill and our members do it very well. Regardless of the specific topic, we have the logistical and organizational capacity to mount huge block parties deep within the Bissau neighborhoods (where there is no urban planning) in no time. These block parties attract thousands of people as Netos de Bandim has a tremendous reputation and following throughout the city. Once the young people of the community see the Netos de Bandim plays they will mimic them and reproduce them daily in their communities as a game. This helps reinforce the messages in a natural and organic manner. Because the campaigns are led by children in a fun and non-threatening manner the messages are accepted by the adults in the communities.
The first step is that the Netos de Bandim leaders learn about the issue that they will be working on so that they can then teach the youth about it. The youth work in groups or individually to come up with role-plays, songs and poetry to help convey the message. The leaders help the youth hone the messages and these are presented to the international donor for approval. Once the messages are agreed upon, Netos de Bandim organizes the number of block parties that the international donors are willing to pay for. We have the logistic capabilities and knowledge of the cultures and traditions of each area to go anywhere in the country and deliver the messages in a contextually appropriate manner.
For the malaria initiative, we were able to educate over 2000 families in 10 Bissau neighborhoods about malaria prevention and protection. The project enabled over 100 young people of the dance group to learn about malaria and to exercise leadership through teaching their community about malaria prevention. Additionally, for a previous project of ours, a 2008 peace building initiative, leaders trained 90 youths in peace and conflict resolution and prepared them to deliver 13 community peace education events. Through dance, theater, poetry and open public discussions, these children took messages of peace to 7 military barracks throughout the country and 6 city neighborhoods in the pre-election period.
The results and impacts of the project were:
We will be able to sustain our work as long as there are international donors who have projects that include the implementation of public education campaigns and need local actors to translate key messages in a culturally appropriate manner and convey it to the public. Netos de Bandim survives by adapting its innovative methodology to the project at hand.
Certainly the campaigns of Netos de Bandim have an impact in changing attitudes and behavior. However, more important is the impact that these opportunities have on the young people that participate in the Netos de Bandim dance troop. The opportunity to be involved in the search for solutions to problems that affect their community has a profound impact on the children. I have personally witnessed the change because I was the Peace and Development Advisor for the United Nations in 2008 and I worked with this group and nine other youth groups on peace building projects. The Netos de Bandim Children express in their demeanor and speech self-confidence and pride, which is uncharacteristic of young people from other neighborhoods and the youth of their neighborhood who don’t participate in the program. The Netos de Bandim children are knowledgeable on a range of health issues and have also learned a great deal about domestic violence, non-violent change, and peace. They are recognized leaders in their community from a very young age and they are the pride of their community.