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SAFE is new CSDW partner Using World-Class Touring Theater to Educate Communities in Kenya

SAFE Kinyauu and Jolo Kimera 2I’m in coastal rural Kenya with Nick Redding of SAFE which stands for Sponsored Arts For Education (www.sponsoredarts.org).  I met Sophie Bray and Nick Redding of SAFE through an introduction by Leigh Blake of Keep a Child Alive (KCA), another of our P&G Children’s Safe Drinking Water (CSDW) partners.  In fact, we agreed to work with both KCA and SAFE at the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) a couple of years ago.  It’s one of our many CSDW partners that we’ve met at CGI.

SAFE Nick Redding 2Nick Redding is an actor who has appeared in the hit film with Clive Owens called “Croupier.”  He started working on using the power of the arts to engage people to help with the HIV/AIDS pandemic prior to September 11, 2001.  In fact, he was in New York City during the September 11 terrorist attacks helping create a song using major talent including Beyonce and others to help build support for addressing HIV/AIDS.  The terrorist attacks set this effort back a bit. But as we bounce along the roads in rural coastal Kenya, Nick tells me that not long afterwards he found himself in a Mombasa clinic helping fight HIV/AIDS.

SAFE kids 2 2As he met HIV positive mothers, he became appalled at how little they knew about their disease.  It seemed to Nick that public health education had failed in creating even a modest level of awareness. 









SAFE sleepy 2Nick knew that the arts could be a powerful way to inspire and educate people.  Many in the public health community were skeptical because drama groups are frequently used and it frequently hasn’t had much impact.  But Nick’s response was common sense that bad drama doesn’t inspire but world class drama can really make an impact.






SAFE play 2 2I thought about this and compared it to my own experience.  I’ve seen a lot of plays incorporating clean drinking water and we’ve funded much of this.  But, truthfully I’m not sure it’s done much good.  But then I thought of my own experience and how a book, a movie, a song, or a play has really inspired me.  So, I’m receptive to see if quality drama can be a tool to help engage communities to adopt clean water habits.

SAFE play 3 2SAFE isn’t starting with clean drinking water.  They’ve already had significant success in helping reduce stigma against HIV/AIDS and have seen dramatic increases in voluntary testing in areas where they perform their plays.  And, importantly, they have a very high success rate in getting people who test positive to enroll in treatment programs.  Their plays make it clear that the treatment can work and can save lives.  Nick turned their play into a film and it’s been piling up awards at film festivals from Zanzibar to Sweden.

SAFE play 4 2Even more impressive to me is that they’ve used their theater outreach to significantly reduce female circumcision or female genital mutilation.  This is a very hard habit to break because of its deep cultural implications.  But among the Maasai, Nick tells me that SAFE has a remarkable success rate in getting communities to stop this practice.  One of the ways they helped address it is to understand the cultural importance of the belief that the circumcision eliminates bad blood from girls when they enter menarche.  So, they’ve encouraged the aunties who conduct the ceremony to make a very small, clean incision and still have the important initiation ceremony for young girls, but not remove the clitoris.  And, they’ve used good drama to engage the entire community on the benefits of changing their practice.

SAFE play 5 2We’re about 3 hours out of Mombasa deep in rural Kenya to start the program engaging communities on clean water.  Nick has assembled a talented group of young actors – real professionals for world class touring theater.  They’re reaching smaller audiences with short shows and then a bigger play on a main stage. 






SAFE stage 2They start with a parade through the community complete with bugles and drums.  The women and children seem to come out of nowhere to join in the fun as we march through the community to the stage.

SAFE village mobilized 2



Nick recently brought enough tents back from his native London so that the whole production cast can live in the communities for several days while performing the plays.  This not only reduces the time and grueling travel over the bumpy roads but it helps lead to the acceptance of the actors by the community.  In addition, I’m pleased to see that the performance team is setting a good example and has already started using the P&G water purification packets to make their water clean.


SAFE process 2


SAFE girl drapped 2

It’s interesting to watch the interaction between these young professional adults and the rural Kenyans.  I watch in fascination as a young Muslim girl literally draped from head to foot stares at one of the performers texting on her mobile phone to her friends back in Nairobi.

SAFE women engaged 2






 From the start of the performances, it’s clear that the audience is very engaged.  I get a full translation for the first performance but then want to just watch people’s reaction.  They’re really into the scenes – laughing at the jokes and holding their breath in the dramatic scenes.  The play incorporates much of everyday life in the drama so is familiar to people. 

SAFE demo 2





And, of course, it incorporates the consequences of unsafe drinking water and how to use the P&G packets to make water safe.







SAFE well 2



I went with the team to collect water prior to the performance and was amazed that the local well had extremely dirty water.  It’s an area where I suspect the P&G packets will be readily accepted because of its ability to make the water crystal clear.

SAFE muslim girl 2






Between the different performances, I offer some hints on how to improve the process of using the water purification packets.  The professional actors take the feedback very positively and immediately incorporate the suggestions into the next performance.  While it’s not rocket science, there’s clearly a bit of an art to the education on using the packets. 

SAFE stirring 2




One of my suggestions is to have the local women lead a second demonstration after they’re shown the first time.  We’ve learned that this makes it clear that they can manage the process themselves. 

SAFE filtering 2



The woman they pick has clearly understood how to correctly use the packets as have her friends who help her filter the water.  In fact it seems that the women do a more efficient job in using the packets than the male actor who has just started using the packets.

SAFE Kinyauu Kimera standing 2


I’ve always known that the water demonstration with the P&G packets is high drama to those with dirty water and very engaging.  So, it’s interesting to me to see these highly talented actors take it to a new level with their incorporation of the demonstration into today’s events. 







As I scan the crowds, it seems that everyone is completely engaged.  Not only the women, who usually pay close attention to the water demonstration, but also the men. 

SAFE woman engaged 2  SAFE men engaged 2


SAFE Kinyauu Kimera & Jolo 2I notice that two of the women with small children are particularly engaged in the performance and afterwards I interview them to see what they’ve learned.  Kinyauu Kimera brought her son Jolo to the performance.  She tells me that Jolo has diarrhea and vomiting today and she’s very glad to be taking some of the packets home with her. 

SAFE Mlongo Chte & Livuma 2





Mlongo Chte has brought little Livuma with her.  Just like Kinyauu, she’s understood how to use the packets correctly.  She says that it seems like her 5 kids have diarrhea and vomiting all the time and she trusts that the packets will work since she’s seen it work with her own eyes.  And, she says the water tastes clean with no smell.

SAFE kid drinking 2It’s been a fun day watching the performances.  I’m excited to learn about the results as SAFE provides more than 5 million liters of clean water to these communities over the next year.



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