Background The Paneer Poo HIV Positive Women’s Network started life as a social support network helping PLHA women deal with the stigmas and hardships associated with the virus. HIV is vastly misunderstood in India by large swathes of the population. Rejection by friends and family, violence and refusal of medical care are common. PP were creating awareness and education programmes in School/Colleges and speaking at District Committee meetings.
The greatest and most significant challlenge in India’s war against HIV/AIDS is the one against taboo. In rural communities, where life moves slowly, unchanging, taboos prove the strongest. A largely illiterate population exasperates the situation and forces a tailored approach to delivering effective messages. Important to rural Tamil Nadu are regular local theatrical and musical performances. It made sense to take advantage of this to deliver a message.
Method The EduClowns are a trained collective of people who travel to schools, colleges and villages. Wearing the mask and clothing of the clown the performers are able to step out of themselves, as a clown they are no longer restricted by the traditional boundaries that hold them to taboo and prevent them from dissecting stigma. When representing Paneer Poo the clowns would start with dance, song and comedy. There is then audience participation with games and question/answer. Short skits are then performed that highlight AIDS/HIV issues, provoking thought and discussion on the subject. Finally, a scene where taboos are defeated and community action has provoked positive change.
Results The EduClowns, on behalf of Paneer Poo, performed 11 times in 2012/13 with hundreds of people at each event. Nearly 200 people went forward to receive an HIV test. Paneer Poo also conducted 27 awareness meetings, reaching over 1600 people.
Conclusion A theatrical education based approach can be successful and suited to rural India.