Advocacy through Arts

Health advocacy encompasses direct service to the individual or family as well as activities that promote health and access to health care in communities and the larger public. Today we don’t have to be lobbyist to be advocate for change.  More and more people are using unconventional means such as plays, photography, movies and TV shows to advocate for change.

Here are a few of such methods.

Anita Woodley an African American woman who does health advocacy through plays.   Woody is the only cast for a one man show called Mama Jugs. She uses her play to shed light on issues pertaining to breast health and body image among women particularly African American women. Whenever Woodley is on stage she channels her great grandmother Suga Babe, the 100-year-old matriarch who, through made-up songs, responded to social and economic adversity and expressed her opinions about her granddaughter. Using the words she heard as a child to make comedy, Anita not only entertains women but also raises awareness about a very important health issue. Anita lost her mother to breast cancer at the age of 47. Her mother didn’t know how to  recognise symptoms of breast cancer was diagnosed when the disease had become fatal hence had no choice of survival  hence Anita`s resolution to spread the word out there. Has her effort pay out?

Yes. Anita was approached by a not for profit clinic to partner with them. This clinic which offers free mammogram to under privileged women also helps provide medical care for the uninsured through partnership with very influential agencies to help pay their bills. Ironically the clinic had been looking for ways to bring light to the subject and Woodley’s unique way of doing so caught their attention. Today more women are being sensitized, screened and treated for breast cancer in North Carolina where Anita hails from.



Another area where advocacy through arts has made a difference is Trivoli Gardens an area west of Kingston Jamaica .Because of problems with persistent poverty and the development of wide scale, international drug trafficking, particularly between Jamaica and the United States, Tivoli Gardens at the turn of the twenty-first century became the scene of repeated confrontations between gunmen and security forces. In 2010 an armed conflict erupted between Jamaica’s military pole forces and members of the drug cartels. This lead to the death of 73 civilians and wounded at least 35 others.  People most affected here where teenage boys, some of whom were budding drug cartel workers and lost people close to them. A foundation in Jamaica decided to start a photo project give some of these boys a camera to capture their feelings and an exhibition of their photos was made available to the entire Jamaican public as a form of advocacy for intervention.

Did it make a difference? Yes it did. The cameras help these boys tell their story, their daily encounters, problems and trials and help heal their trauma. The exhibition made people who had considered a Tivoli garden as a no good area full of criminals to see a different side of it. Donations were made towards creating activities and building centers to help prevent teenage boys from joining gangs and as you can see from the video it is working.

What this tells us is that sometimes we have to go out of the box   and be creative if we want to make a difference.

So bring out the creatives in you  and go out and conquer the world!




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