Don’t give a man fish, teach him how
to make a fishing rod!
by Jacopo Fo
Solidarity is a beautiful thing. But when you decide to give a helping hand to others, you often face great difficulties.
In the 60s photographs of children from Biafra reduced to skeletons with huge bellies circulated around the world causing widespread outrage and prompting many initiatives to put an end to that hecatomb.
Large amounts of food were collected and distributed to those people. A praiseworthy action, of course, but it ruined a huge number of farmers: as food was distributed for free, no one bought their products anymore. The number of the deprived grew enormously and from then on soon there were many more mouths to feed. But at the same time, the emotional wave of solidarity had faded in the rich countries: less ships loaded with food arrived, while there were more people who were hungry. It was a disaster within the disaster.
Since then, the solidarity movement has made enormous steps forward and has always tried new ways to help people avoiding major collateral damages.
And the results are clear: despite the fact that over the past 100 years the inhabitants of this planet have quadrupled, the number of deaths from starvation has been reduced by 50% over the past 20 years. There are no places where a group of aid workers is not present and local people have often found innovative ways to help themselves, leading to significant impact, as in the case of the bankings for the poor that assists more than 200 million women today.
These results encourage us to do more to heal the world’s worst sores and to be very careful because the problems we face in the most areas are very complex.
Why in Mozambique?
Despite the positive economic growth in recent years, which has helped reduce the number of people living in absolute poverty, Mozambique is still a developing country. Poverty is a challenge, particularly in the district of Palma, in the province of Cabo Delgado, in the north of the country, even if we certainly do not find the same level of poverty that we met 50 years ago .
There are extremely efficient solidarity structures even in Palma. We have visited those areas and the health facilities built by Eni Foundation and run by Doctors with Africa – CUAMM, which offer free medical services, including the distribution of medicine, two operating two modernly equipped operating rooms, a house for women who are about to deliver, and a number of health centers in the villages.
Therefore, in this case the problem is not the lack of means.
Speaking to the doctors who work in Palma, we found that the greatest obstacle encountered in providing care was simply distrust for western medicine. It is not about being irrational.
Mozambique was under Portuguese rule until 1975 and it is a young presidential republic that is building its own health system. The strong presence of traditional medicine combined with the little trust for western remedial approaches represents a major obstacle for dialogue.
Over time the doctors working in this area have developed a series of initiatives in order to overcome this mistrust, acting in a non-intrusive way, for instance by engaging local curandeiros to get the most seriously ill patients to the healthcare facilities. This collaborative approach has brought good results but there is still much to do.
Therefore, we designed a project starting from the theater, using the emotional power of this tool.
The choice of the theater comes from the fact that in these villages there are many amateur companies that animate celebrations and take part in school-life. Theater, music and dance are the most common and popular forms of art.
This choice being made, we started to study the cultural situation: which are the main comic and dramatic elements in this context? In other words, what stories are told, which characters played?
These are fundamental questions, because it would not make any sense to export our theater.
We immediately thought that it could be useful to work with the actors of the villages and strengthen what was already there, offering our experience and providing them with financial support and motivation. At first everything was complicated, a bit because of the language barrier, but mostly because of the different cultural patterns. Inquiring about the local theatrical tradition we ended up with the impression that this was virtually non-existent. In fact, people found it difficult to talk about it as it was unusual to see Europeans interested in theater models from the villages, traditional forms of art that locals thought were of little interest to us. But it was exactly what we were looking for.
Slowly we realized that not only there were many groups of actors producing their own texts following a traditional style, but, as we expected, we found out the existence of some universal characters and narrative structures: for example, the Trickster, a comic character that is similar in many ways to our Harlequin.
We thus identified some actors and authors interested in collaborating with us and in coming to Italy, to the Free University of Alcatraz, to attend Nobel Laureate Dario Fo’s lessons and a series of music and dance events. We decided to organize two workshops with these actors and to create a show to be performed in Swahili, in the villages by the same Mozambican actors. A series of small events were organized around this performance linked to the use of eco-technologies relevant for those areas (see the book in pdf “Eco-technologies for the Third World”).
As the project takes shape, we will keep you informed about what is going on. And we hope that this experience will be useful not only to our colleagues in Mozambique but also to those interested in knowing that reality and their theater forms: they seem really fascinating to us. They could teach a lot and provide new ideas to whom has chosen the stage as its place of art.