Throughout my placement my knowledge of how development works on the ground has vastly improved. I have learnt the importance of people powered development; I now understand that in order for people’s lives to improve they need to be empowered with the tools for them to improve their own lives. In particular I have found the use of drama and the arts as an effective way of empowering people thus leading to their own development. 

Perhaps one of the most obvious uses of drama is that it helps people work together in a team. Successful teamwork is an integral part of successful development, because if communities are able to work together well their projects are more likely to succeed. I saw firsthand how drama can improve team dynamics when I carried out a drama team learning session with my own team. Using drama games immediately got the whole team laughing with each other and having the opportunity for the whole team to work together in an unpressured environment was rewarding and helped remind us to listen to each other. 

For people to feel empowered they must feel good about themselves, thus giving them the confidence to improve their own lives. We used role plays in primary and secondary schools when we conducted self esteem and peer pressure workshops. This helped boost the students’ confidence as performing in front of a large audience can be daunting. It gave the students an opportunity to present their ideas to the group and have immediate positive feedback to it through clapping. The children were able to feel a sense of achievement which I think is incredibly important as it immediately boosts the child’s self esteem. Also through performance they were able to concrete their own ideas and understanding of the topic. The children loved having the opportunity to perform and I’ve been continually impressed by Malawians natural ability to create hilarious and entertaining performances. 

We also started a film project in a local secondary school’s AIDS TOTO Club, in which students created dramas on discrimination of which we then created a short film. This definitely helped with their confidence as all the students had to work effectively together, thus giving the quieter students a chance to perform. The project improved their understanding of the topic but also gave them a chance to creatively explore how discrimination might affect them. Being able to show them their film was really special as you could see their pride in their own work. This is something every child needs to feel in order to continue growing creatively and personally, but it’s especially important for vulnerable youths as it gives them a chance to feel good about themselves through the work they created. 

In Malawi many people are either infected of affected by HIV and AIDS. AIDS Support Groups (ASG’s) are a safe place for people living with the virus to share ideas and provide support for each other. We found that ASG’s are the perfect environments for art therapy. Silly drama games simply get people laughing which is incredibly important as it allows everybody to forget other issues which are affecting their lives. Being able to work together with ASG members to create a short drama about the initial fear felt when someone is found HIV positive gave people a chance to express their emotions and again helped the whole group in supporting each other. One volunteer said “Often in communities where literacy levels are low drama allows people to express themselves in a new and exciting way whilst engaging with the arts.” Drama gives people faced with challenging lives the opportunity to creatively express themselves and their experiences, being able to share that with each other brings people together and is therapeutic for the individual.

The use of the arts can be very rewarding. Creating and performing builds individual’s confidence and helps teams work effectively together. Both confidence and team work are paramount to effective development, because to improve your own life you must feel confident in yourself and in the community you live in. Furthermore using drama as a therapy is a very effective especially for those leading difficult lives because it allows everybody to explore their own issues and express themselves. I have seen all of these processes happening during my placement and it is because of this that I truly believe that Drama and the arts have a very important role to play in development. 

Written by Jess Haygarth