Drama on a rainy day

We were meant to get there by 3pm but we were running a little late. We weren’t as panicked because we were on the heels of a packed bus of actors and social workers whose event we were there to follow. This was the team of Ummurage for Social Development (UmC), a Kigali-based non-profit that produces radio and live dramas with the aim of positive behaviour change. At the moment, the focus of their on-going radio drama series is a number of health issues including maternal health and the prevention and treatment of malaria.

Rwanda follows a community-based health insurance program, locally known as Mutuelles de Sante, and UmC was participating in a campaign organised in Gisagara district in the southern province of the country to get locals to subscribe to it.

“Subscribing to community-based health insurance gives you pride and the right to treatment in time,” a banner declared. The team was there to entertain but also show the audience that pregnant women needed to visit health centers for ante-natal check-ups and also seek treatment for malaria — both of which is made easier when one is subscribed to mutuelle.

This was a campaign that wanted to excite its audience from the get go. We reached to a resounding round of music and a group of women performing the Kwiyereka icumu or a dance in honor of the spears.

Before the UmC team could perform, everyone was sent running inside the pitched tents by a spell of heavy rains. Later, when the sky cleared and the team was ready to perform, the crowd only began to grow by the minute. I stood in the audience with Emmanuel, their communications manager, who translated bits and pieces of the drama in my ear, over the laughter of the crowd and the clear voices of the actors reverberating through the microphones in their hands. There were times when the jokes did not resonate with me but it only took a second to remind myself who the real audience was — the energy of the crowd was contagious and I laughed along.

A few young women stood at the front with their cellphones in their hands, recording the entire play, perhaps for future viewing. Young children began to join the crowd as school wrapped up for the day.

UmC follows the “Sabido methodology”, named after popular Mexican social drama pioneer Miguel Sabido, to create serialised radio dramas that impart pro-social values through relatable characters and plot lines that the audience can engage with and follow. This drama included a sick and pregnant wife, a careless husband with a mistress, a daughter who moves to Kigali to find a job that will get her out of poverty, a caring and informed community health worker, and a stern local leader. At one point, the local leader turns to the audience to ask them if he should believe the lying husband and they erupt in laughter as they say no, amused to be included in the play. In the end, when the same husband has learnt his lesson and promises to turn a new leaf, the audience is asked again if he should be forgiven and they all agree.

A few scenes from the day.