You join us in a marketplace in Masaka, a busy neighbourhood in the capital city of Rwanda – Kigali. For the past two weeks, Theatre for a Change has been working in Kigali with a group of 20 Rwandan participants – both young people and peer educators –  in collaboration with our partner, Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO).

We set out to train the group how to use Interactive Theatre for Behaviour Change to promote effective communication between parents and children around sex and sexuality – in order to improve the sexual and reproductive health rights of children and youth. This was a specific need identified for Rwanda.

After an intensive, challenging and transformative fortnight of participatory learning, today is the first time the group will be performing together in public, along with practicing their new facilitation skills to engage the audience of community members.

The group is accompanied by Jean Bizimana, a talented Rwandan photographer working for our partner Taking Pictures, Changing Lives. Jean’s local knowledge also proves invaluable in helping us to navigate the new territory of putting on a live outdoor performance in the heart of a community in Kigali, something which has not been done before now. His incredible images feature throughout this story.

Our music starts up. Local children venture over and start an impromptu dance off, attracting a curious crowd to form a circle – the ideal shape, where all participants are equal in space. We now have an audience – the Interactive Theatre performance can begin.

The performance explores the absence and avoidance of communication between a father and his 15-year-old daughter. Her mother has passed away. The daughter is being sent away to school, and tries to speak to her father before she goes to ask his advice about relationships and sexual and reproductive health. Her father, played below, becomes angry, and refuses to discuss these “taboo” subjects. The audience are captivated by the energy of the performers.

The daughter meets a boy at school and they start a relationship. Her boyfriend tells her a myth common in Rwanda – that you can’t get pregnant during the daytime. She becomes pregnant, and returns home to tell her father. The story ends with the daughter being thrown out of her school and village due to her pregnancy, and her father losing his prominent position within the local church.

Our newly trained facilitators now invite the audience to intervene by using our pioneering “touch-tag” methodology to enter the performance space, become a new or existing character in the story and explore different solutions to the situation together. A local health worker intervenes to give her advice to the daughter, and a male audience member then uses “touch-tag” to replace her and take part himself. They are followed by other members of the audience too.

Now the audience interact with the father, becoming characters who advise him on how he can openly speak with and educate his daughter about her sexual and reproductive health – in particular how to navigate safe sex – empowering him to make a positive change in his own life, and in his daughter’s life too.

It’s the following day, and we’re now in Gasabo, a rural community in Nyagatare District. Our participants and the community members warm up together before the performance begins. Today, the other half of our group will have the chance to perform and facilitate.

This performance focuses on a mother, who wants to talk to her young daughter about sexual and reproductive health, but is prevented from doing so by her husband, mother and neighbour, who berate her – telling her these topics should not be discussed. Her daughter is left vulnerable and naive as a result.

The daughter is preyed upon by an older man, who gives her a phone, a watch and other items which she could not afford to buy herself. The older man rapes her and she becomes pregnant. Distraught and frightened, the young woman tries to abort the baby by overdosing, and dies as a result.

The performers use their new facilitation skills once again to ask the audience to get involved in finding alternative paths for the characters in this tragic story. First, a local teacher intervenes to help the young woman.

Led by the facilitators, other audience members “touch-tag” into the performance and speak to her mother too, exploring ways to change behaviour, and find solutions, together.

Another local teacher, surrounded by some of his pupils, gives a speech about how teachers in the community can get involved in championing sexual and reproductive health education.

The performances have ended, and our Interactive Theatre for Behaviour Change Training participants are exhilarated. Some of them simply did not believe that they could get up there, perform and facilitate in front of large audiences, and their self-confidence has soared. Our process of change starts with the individual, and can then move to group and community levels.

Their training has culminated in a highly successful first step into using Interactive Theatre to influence community attitudes on the vital importance of opening up positive and constructive conversations between parents and children around sexual and reproductive health. We are excited to follow their journey as they continue to flourish as performers and facilitators – changing conversations throughout their communities.

I am looking to totally change my behaviour. Now I feel confident that I can contribute to community behaviour changes” – Participant

This training in Rwanda is part of our partnership work with VSO in Bangladesh, Eswatini, Mozambique, Nepal, Rwanda and Tanzania. Click here to find out more.

To help us train more young people to become change makers in their communities, please support our work here. A £25 gift could help enable an Interactive Theatre performance like those you have seen to take place and change lives.

We would like to thank Jean Bizimana from Taking Pictures, Changing Lives for capturing these performances so beautifully for us.