“Journey Mercies”: Forum Theatre Outreach in East Africa

In May 2017 a longtime dream came true when members of Jana Sanskriti visited Budondo village, Uganda and performed for the Suubi Women, a Village Health Team who use Forum Theatre on outreach days.

In East Africa, it is customary to wish a traveler “Journey Mercies.” Thus we have adopted this name when we do Forum Theatre outreach in villages. Since 2007, theatre activists have traveled from the USA to Uganda, throughout Kenya, to Spain, and to a village in the Transylvanian mountains of Romania. We were influenced long ago by the work of Jana Sanskriti, when Julian Boal screened “A Theater on the Field” in New York City.  This motivated us to discover how a similar model can be applied in lands beyond India.


In 2007, two American members of Presence Center for Applied Theatre Arts were invited to Budondo village, Uganda to offer training in Augusto Boal’s methods to a village theatre troupe. Atuwa troupe had been addressing women and girls’ issues for years, using a Theater for Development model.

In the years since then, we have made several forays into Kenya, focusing on HIV prevention with teachers near Lake Victoria, on land rights with a hunter-gatherer tribe in Kenya’s Great Rift Valley and a Muslim community on the Indian Ocean, as well as on Kenya’s perennial election violence in various villages and slums.

In Kenya, we further the vision of Amani People’s Theatre, a group of community animators and artists who have done this work for decades.  Together we have published several essays on this collaboration.


  1. In August of 2017, we hope to continue the Journey Mercies Tour with the Suubi Women, a team of village health workers/Forum Theatre actresses based in Budondo Village, Uganda. They have been doing outreach for years in nearby villages, and they now wish to bring their work beyond the Ugandan border so other communities can benefit.

Here are members of the Suubi Women Health team in Uganda, setting up for a Forum Theatre outreach day

  1. In Nairobi, Kenya, Sanyu Lydia and Mecca Burns have been training students in Forum Theatre at Kerith Brook secondary school. These students hope to deliver their art to the public to help the peace effort around Kenya’s upcoming national election in August. The director of the school, Caleb Seda envisions an arts-infused national curriculum, to make education more enduring and impactful for all students.

Here’s a link to a video that mashes up Forum Theatre with dance and beats created by youth at Kerith Brook School in Nairobi, Kenya.

The Forum Theatre piece was on corruption and rape.

The video was produced in the USA by Anthony Amos, a ‘conscious hip hop’ DJ and member of the Presence troupe.

Here are the same kids holding valentines for me to carry back to kids in a housing project in Charlottesville,Virginia, USA

  1. In western Kenya, the government is experimenting with Restorative Justice and other alternative dispute resolution models, now mandated by the constitution. We are just beginning to apply theatre with a group of women serving community-based sentences. The theatre work wil focus on women’s rights, land reform, and family disputes. We have a long term goal of applying theatre to politically-maneuvered ethnic conflict in the mountains between Kenya and Uganda.
  2. Another prospect for 2017 is a training in drama therapy and playback theatre for S. Sudanese theatre artists who already have background in Theater of the Oppressed. This may take place in Rwanda due to the political climate in South Sudan.
  3. We have a sister village in the Transylvanian mountains of Romania.  In Viisoara (Hundorf) artists are hosted and cherished, to serve as a mirror reflecting the past and future of this beautiful village, letting the arts offer an alternative vision to migration to Western Europe. This will be our third year of devising theatre and music with the children.

Here is our ‘sister village’ in Romania

The Longest Waves:

When we travel to villages, we sometimes wonder how these ideas might reach more people.  The Journey Mercies tour is a splendid thing, but sometimes it’s difficult for people to leave their families behind to travel, and there are so many places to visit…

Radio waves are long enough to reach the places beyond TV or computers, and we are  beginning to develop Radio Forum.  When listening to a series of dramatic episodes, callers can use their cell phones to suggest strategies and solutions for the characters to try out. This is already happening in South Sudan, and we’d like to know about other places that could give us guidance.

Children as Change Agents:

Everywhere we look, communities see youth and children as the hope for the future. We have been watching research develop on the efficacy of young people using theatre to educate their families, neighbors and leaders,  for example on HIV awareness in western Kenya.  When enmities are bitterly lodged, it is  sometimes only the youth who can imagine a future of friendship and social transformation.

We are tremendously inspired by the work of Jana Sanskriti in Sunderbans (and elsewhere) helping children thrive and overcome barriers to learning. Our deepest wish for this newsletter is that it can join groups in many lands who are evolving the work of Freire and Boal. As a drama therapist working with children for 30 years, this writer knows the power of the arts to reach those who have been marginalized due to poverty, disability or racism.  Through theatre, these children can gain more access to the resources they need. Moreover–in all corners of the globe–they themselves will be the artists and change agents of the future.

Submitted by Mecca Antonia Burns,

Presence Center for Applied Theatre Arts

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