My evening in Assiut proved to be one of the most unique and interesting parts of my visit to Upper Egypt. As it began to get dark, the streets became clogged with young people coming home and going out. We traveled to a youth center, supported by the local government, to attend a play organized by local young people with the help of some of the adults in the community. The play was written by a well-known local author of children’s books and focused on key health messages directed towards young pregnant moms, parents, and children themselves.
The format of the play was unusual and incredibly creative. Part of the play was acted out using large puppets (think of a local version of the Muppets!) and then the puppets literally “came alive” with actors dressed as the puppet figures to finish the story. There were also young dancers, an impressive narrator who showed talent beyond her 14 years, and a few professional adult actors from the government theater troupe. The content focused on such things as the importance of nutrition for pregnant mothers, the need for professional medical services for birth and post-natal care for babies, and the issue of child abuse.
One vision that will stay with me for a long time was one of human-size “germs” attacking a pregnant woman who had forgotten to prepare her food in a clean way…scary! The audience was enthralled and the place was packed—so there were plenty of opportunities to get the message across about what it will take to decrease maternal and child mortality in a place like Assiut, which still has a long way to go to reduce preventable deaths.
The play not only delivered some important health messages but also, in a country where over half the population is under 25 and the unemployment rate for young people hovers at around 40 percent, activities like these give young men and women an opportunity to learn new skills. They were in charge of everything from costume design and production, to lighting, to set design and construction, to playing most of the roles. It was a huge undertaking and they did an amazing job.
My late night ended well after my usual dinner time with a light meal in the Egyptian tradition and a