Thursday, December 01, 2005

World AIDS Day

Greetings on December 1, World AIDS day. We hope and assume you have seen/heard publicity in the US. As Peace Corps representatives, we were involved with festivities in Togo to recognize the day. We have been on an organizing committee to help plan a 4-day theater festival which started today.

The day started with a 2 mile march of 150 actors (and 3 Peace Corps Volunteers) singing, drumming and carrying signs through the business streets of Atakpamé and ending at the High School. There we held the opening ceremonies with singing choirs, dancing troupes, speeches and theater skits. Then the dignitaries (which included us) went off to a short reception at the nicest run-down hotel in town. This was the opening of the 2nd annual FESTHES, Theater Festival for Health, the first (as well as the second) being organized by Cate’s Togolese counterpart, Eugene. This year’s edition has over 20 theater groups performing skits about how to prevent the spread of AIDS. The skits are spontaneously given on the streets in the community near places where people gather, like the market or the stadium. They are in comedy, and are quite sexually explicit in their language and message, as they need to be to get the message across. The message is 3-fold: Abstinence, Fidelity and Condom use (not always in that order). There are 4 days of events starting today with the activities already described followed by street theater performances in Atakpamé. Tomorrow is a full day of skit performances by the troupes in the Jr. High and High Schools, followed by a USA-Togo soccer match (Peace Crops Volunteer Trainees vs. actors). Then there’s a rap contest in the evening (AIDS related). On Saturday the troupes go out to the neighboring villages and perform there. On Sunday there’s an acting class for the actors and the closing ceremony.

FESTHES is a small example of the effort Africans are making to combat AIDS in Africa. The funding for this festival comes from Western sources (however this year’s festival only has $3500 to work with), but the organization and efforts came from Africans (with a little help from Peace Corps). There is awareness – AIDS permeates family life, society, and the economy. The estimated AIDS number in Togo is roughly 6% (about 300,000), but most think it is even higher. Even at 6% it’s high enough to touch every extended family in the country on the average. FESTHES plans to get the “Stop SIDA” (Stop AIDS) message to about 20,000 people. We know there are many other events throughout Togo that will also be helping to spread awareness and hopefully action. The goal is to make the message real enough that the population is convinced that it can happen to them and they need to act responsibly to prevent it.

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