After the Mtwara/Lindi malaria training with Peace Corps volunteers (PCV) and COMMIT project community change agents (CCA) in April, I went to Masasi to meet Population Services International (PSI) and learn how to operate the mobile video unit (MVU). We visited two PCV and showed Hali Halisi, a film about stigma and HIV, in each of their villages.
The atmosphere and energy at an MVU screening in a village is like a state fair. Little kids come first to watch as screen, speakers and generator are dragged out of the car and set up. When the generator and speakers are ready, music feeds the crowd attracting older youth and adults. By the time night falls the demographic is complete – all socio-economic groups are represented. Like a game show host the PSI staff gets the audience ready to enjoy the feature film and hopefully learn the public health message it gives. One emcees while the other is a DJ. The audience is treated to a dance contest, questions about health topics, prizes and popular music videos.
Watching a movie under a starry sky with 200-800 strangers is a wonderful experience. After the movie the emcee reviews the health message and a local government official might talk about what they can do to make the community safe, healthy and prosperous. Exit music and a spotlight come on to help break down the set and the crowd disperses with other somethings to talk about: what they saw, how proud they are their brother/son/friend won a dance contest, who was and was not there, how even the drunk guys kept quiet during the film, and inshallah how to keep their families disease-free.
Volunteers were grateful for the opportunity to make their local fame about more than being a stranger. Now they’re strangers who brought the big screen movie to the village and who know bout HIV and other health matterts. One called the next morning to share the excitement of knowing who will be involved in an HIV/AIDS awareness youth group. After we left some young adults asked her what they could do to learn more and continue educating the community.
When they recovered from the shock that PCV live in such conditions, PSI staff were stoked to know volunteers would be with the community until the next time MVU rolled into that village. Usually they leave a village hoping the message was understood and action taken. Now the MVU starts a conversation that continues and evolves as volunteers and community members get to know each other and how they can work together to make their community a superior place to live.