/ 29 April 2011

Award sets the stage for greater things

Themba Interactive, the winner of the 2007 Investing in the Future Most Innovative Award, has flourished since receiving the accolade. Then known as the Themba HIV/Aids Organisation, it won the award for its unique interactive theatre that enables audiences to take part in and redirect their plays.

“After the award many good things came our way. The award gave us a boost in that it made funders a little more confident that we knew what we were doing,” says Sweetness Buthelezi, the communications manager. Established in 2002, Themba offers training programmes that address HIV/Aids, sexuality, gender, health and human rights.

The Investing in the Future judging panel was particularly impressed by its unique interactive theatre programme. “Winning the award enabled us to broaden our horizons. We no longer deal only with HIV/Aids and have diversified the issues we talk about,” Buthelezi says.

Now Themba runs theatre shows that deal with health issues and encourage audiences to understand their human rights and responsibilities. As a result Themba was granted a three-year contract by the department of health to run a peer education programme with prison inmates.

“This has been an incredibly successful programme and we have reached more than 90?000 inmates indirectly,” Buthelezi says. Eric Richardson, the managing director of Themba Interactive, says that it trains peer educators in correctional centres who pass the information on to fellow inmates. “We monitor and evaluate the impact of their work.”

Richardson says Themba did not work with government departments before 2006 but since it won the award departments such as correctional services, home affairs, social development, health, education and sports, arts and culture have come on board to work with the NGO on different projects.

The organisation has­ also received more than R9-million from the National Lottery Distribution Trust Fund to stage plays in Braamfontein and at underprivileged government schools in Gauteng. “We decided that if they can’t go to the theatre we will take the theatre to them and they love it; it’s great fun,” says Richardson.

“We talk about sex, about the things they need to talk about and there is laughter in our performance and interaction. People become part of the play — it doesn’t have an ending; it’s open-ended. “The audience can say, ‘I think this is what you should do in relation to the boyfriend’, and we will say, ‘Come and show us what you are talking about’.”

The work expanded to a new platform in 2008 after Themba was approached by publishing giant Macmillan Books to include four of its scripts in a book to be used at schools around the country. The book, What Shall We Do Now? — after one of Themba’s scripts — was published in 2009. It tells teachers what to do with the script and enables them to train learners in far bigger numbers than they would normally do.

Themba is expanding its work to Mpumalanga. With funding from Comic Relief, a British-based company, it is partnering the Highveld Anglican Board of Social Responsibility, a faith-based organisation dealing with orphaned children.

“We work with orphaned and vulnerable children in the Mpumalanga and Ekurhuleni regions and train them to be peer ­educators — to give them life skills and drama skills,” says Buthelezi. The aim is to educate the youth so that they will be able to take the skills acquired back to their communities.