A Safe Harbor of Freedom, Progress and Hope in the Humanitarian Sector
Boards are being dusted down in Elmina, Ghana, in preparation for local representative Bernard Benyah’s latest community initiative – a colorful season of free-for-all educational theater featuring prominent local and national performers.
“We needed an impactful way to explore the behaviors, attitudes and societal structures that are feeding the area’s escalating HIV infection rates,” Benyah explains. “Infection rates rose 3.0% between 2010 and 2011 in the Central Regions of Ghana. We had to get people talking.” Harnessing music, song and theater to explore issues around HIV infection, Benyah hopes his pioneering Culture for Development program – Dramatic Theater with a social conscience – will get people opening up about AIDS.
There’s a lot to talk about. Lack of access to accurate information about HIV handicaps residents’ capacity to make safe, informed lifestyle choices. In the harsh Ghanaian economy, with high rates of HIV-related mortality, widows and orphaned youth are particularly vulnerable. Many fall prey to older, sexually-active adults who promise money in exchange for sexual services, putting them at heightened risk for HIV infection. Knowledge about contraception is patchy too, Benyah points out, as evidenced by Elmina’s flourishing abortion industry. Once funding for his program is secured, Benyah envisions specially-trained education and outreach teams visiting up to thirty area villages and reaching Thousands of vulnerable residents. “By educating people about abstinence, contraception and safe sexual practices we empower them to make positive choices and positive changes.”
“But it’s not enough to teach vulnerable individuals to advocate for themselves,” Benyah adds. “Society must learn to advocate for them too.” Historically, according to Benyah, Ghanaian society has shunned HIV infected individuals. Once exposed, many lose prized roles at home, at work, and in the community further depriving them of positive support structures. As part of his work, Benyah hopes to train local community members as counselors to help mentor individuals and families impacted by HIV/AIDS and to nurture a culture of positivity of acceptance within, and towards, the HIV positive community. Here too, he sees a critical role for theater. “Theater’s powerful, yet non-threatening. It makes people feel connected.”
In a society where HIV is rife and those known to be affected are routinely ostracized, even ousted, a feeling of connectedness sounds like a good thing. We urgently need funding and other educational materials for the project.
Bernard Benyah is the director of a local NGO by name Kirc Foundation in Elmina.
Director of Kirc Foundation