Theater has proven to be a necessary tool for helping the youth of Bajo Lempa, El Salvador develop teamwork and leadership skills--and receive an invitation to perform internationally. "We believe that art is a tool that greatly facilitates the work that we do every day to achieve the empowerment of our communities and the strengthening of our organization," says Nohé Reyes of the Mangle Association, which received its 4th ArtCorps artist in 2008.
Robyn Saxer is the 2008 ArtCorps artist working with the Mangle, reinforcing three years of collaboration. While Robyn comes from a theater-obsessed family in California, she says she has learned more about the power of theatre in one month working with Mangle than anywhere else in her life. She put together 3 plays in 2 months while serving as director/facilitator, costume and set designer, stage manager, playwright, translator and producer all at once.
One by one, the theater troupe followed. Now that we all knew each other, the play could begin. One would think that childhood diarrhea and respiratory infections would be difficult subjects for a play, but Te Itibwerere (the theatre troupe) carried it off brilliantly, possibly because diarrhea and respiratory infections are the stuff of everyday drama in Kiribati, but perhaps also because storytelling and songs are still the primary transmitters of knowledge in Kiribati. There are no I-Kiribati writers. Although the people of Kiribati are fairly literate, there is nothing to read beyond what their church provides, which means that nearly all knowledge of themselves is transmitted orally. Thus the plays about the runs.
In New York, plays examine the ennui of contemporary life; in Kiribati, plays explore the art of rehydration. The audience laughed knowingly and nodded thoughtfully, and Sylvia was very pleased. It is one thing to sit in an air-conditioned office in Washington, poring over thousands of pages of buzzword drivel--"disseminating knowledge over the Internet"--and it is another thing all together to be in a village on the far side of the world, watching people get the health care information they need in a clever, effective, low-tech, real-world kind of way. If this had been a World Bank health program, a gazillion dollars would have been spent on consultants and first-class air travel, culminating in a report issued four years later recommending that Kiribati build a dam.