Live theatre delivers health messages to refugees

21 June 2011

June 2011
Jordan

More than 6,000 refugees in ten refugee camps across Jordan were entertained and educated during May by live performances of a play developed by UNRWA about the dangers of unhealthy living.

Za’al, Khadra and Green Apple takes a funny but serious look at how non-communicable diseases like diabetes, heart disease and cancer can result from avoidable habits like smoking, eating unhealthy foods, and failing to exercise.

Fifty minutes of action, witty dialogue, songs and audience/actor interplay delivered some strong and clear messages to the refugee audiences.

The play was written and performed for UNRWA by Hasan Sabaileh and Rania Ismaeel, celebrities in the Jordan entertainment world. Rania was born and educated in the Nuzha refugee neighbourhood, so has a special interest in the health of her Palestinian community.

Enthusiastic reviews

Reviews of the play have been very enthusiastic, from invited guests in the health field as well as audiences.

“UNRWA is working out of the box here,” the director of primary health care in the Jordan Ministry of Health said about the innovative approach to health education.

A representative of the World Health Organization said the play deserves to be widely re-performed.

More important has been the audience response. One audience member said to UNRWA’s health chief in Jordan, Dr Ishtaiwi Abu-Zayed: “Thanks to UNRWA for bringing smiles to us, for allowing us to ventilate, and for getting us informed about diabetes and other things.”

Another refugee who works as vegetable seller said: “Thanks for the promotion! I’ve been selling vegetable and fruits for years. Now I realise I’m selling the right and healthy food.”

The play has won strong media coverage across the country where all local dailies wrote positive articles. Dr Ishtaiwi and actor Hasan Sabaileh appeared on the popular national morning TV show New Day. They talked for more than 15 minutes about the play and the impact UNRWA intends to make by adopting non-conventional means of communicating health messages to refugees.

One part of a larger push

Za’al, Khadra and Green Apple is a successful component of a range of actions UNRWA is taking to strengthen the quality of health services it delivers to refugees.

“We’re also putting new tools in place to increase provider/patient contact time and reduce waiting times,” Dr Ishtaiwi said.

“They include a new appointment system, a waiting room queue system, and computerised record systems to cut paperwork and smooth patient progress through the clinic.

“We’re also building staff capacities and enhancing team spirit. And we’re making moves to increase cooperation with other health service providers to enhance the primary care we deliver.”

Za’al, Khadra and Green Apple was the brainchild of Dr Akihiro Seita, UNRWA”s head of health. Organised by UNRWA’s Jordan Field Office and supported by private sector funding, it will be seen by many more refugees on screens in health centres across Jordan in 2011 and beyond.

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