Clowning to communicate? It works!

Clowning as a communication strategy in sexual health communication: a partial, informal, playful but realistic assessment of the regional impact of the Proyecto Payaso South South Exchange programme.

Theatre is powerful. Full stop. Nothing else has the power to mirror reality and life and to make us see ourselves, our weaknesses, strengths, stupidity, vulnerabilities. It stands to reason, therefore, that if one wants to change behaviour, theatre or ‘drama’ is arguably the best method to do it. It was this belief that led me to Proyecto Payaso. Looking at their website on the internet, I was immediately drawn to the project, despite my initial desire to go to South America and not Central.

One of the interesting aspects of the project was its ‘South South’ exchange programme, and what seemed to me to be its defiance of traditional the North-South relationship. That is, dependence on the theories, advise and experience of the North to tackle the issues of the South. I was an instant convert, myself a native of the ‘South’ (Jamaican). I felt that there was so much beauty in the natural culture of the South and thought it sad that we did not share our experiences in more meaningful ways. For the first time I actually felt special that an organization wanted my knowledge and experience instead of that of my Northern counterpart.

Proyecto Payaso offers a model of sexual health communication to the region that is participatory, target driven and non traditional; and this is exactly why it works. The project employs local youth but they are not just blindly carrying out the mandate of the organization; they actually have a stake in it right up to the executive level. Meetings, training and evaluation activities are all designed to involve the clowns in the development of the project. I participated in the project at all levels as well, sharing experiences and envisioning how this kind of project would work in my own context.

One of the distinctive features of Proyecto Payaso, for me, was the fact that the ‘obras’ or plays were specifically adapted to specific target audiences, even within Guatemala. The play done in the female prison was different from those done at schools or with indigenous women or in the various regions. Targeting audiences specifically is an extremely important part of planning any campaign for behaviour change. The fact that this is the case shows the evidence based backbone of the project (no clowning around!).

One of the things I grappled with the most during my time at the project (especially during ‘clown training’) was how the project managed to use clowning as a method of tackling a serious issue (HIV). The clown, I realized, helped to introduce issues that were not easily discussed in this population, and was a more accepted figure as it was not seen as threatening.

The fact that similar models to the project have been created regionally because of the exchange programme in other Central and South American countries is a testament to the success of the programme. The exchange programme can have an impact on the individual, in the sharing of ideas and in the influence of ideology.

Repost from the previous blog of Soroya Julian (originally published on July 27, 2011)

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