Performing Arts are for Healing

Does it ever happen to you, that life takes you just where you need to be?  Such a thing happened to me when a friend invited me to a viewing of the film, Tapestries of Hope.

I’d received an email invitation from the Girls’ Coalition of Southwestern Pennsylvania, but I had not yet determined that the film was one I needed to see.  It’s the story of an African woman who rescues girls in Zimbabwe who have been raped at very young ages. Many of the girls now suffer from HIV/AIDS because their rapists believed that having sex with a virgin was a way to cure their AIDS.

The story is so gut wrenching, it takes some effort to keep breathing as we meet the girls and experience the village that is set up to take care of them and to help them heal. We see them caring for one another, the slightly older ones for the younger. We see them smiling as their pain shows through their eyes. We watch as they sing, and dance, and tell their stories in circles of women and girls. And we meet the few men who help; “rescue man” who comes for the injured girls and brings them to the village, the male elder who gave the land for the village, and who claims at the end – “If I had it to do over again, I would have all girls.” And we receive strong evidence that many of the girls heal.

The presence of the heroine of the film, Betty Makoni, the woman who established the girls’ village, enriched the experience for all of us as she spoke, in person, after the showing. Someone mentioned that the practice the agency developed of allowing a girl, when she arrives, to tell the agency what she needs from them seemed to begin empowering her immediately.  I was struck by the way that the group seemed to empower its members.

I told Betty that I had a son who died of AIDS and that I have traveled to Malawi and met with other women who have lost children to the disease. When I was there, I noticed there were teen girls in movement choirs chanting warnings about AIDS. I asked Betty to comment on the use, in her program, of the singing and dancing, the clapping and chanting of the girls’ names.

Betty Makoni’s face lit up as she began to answer.  “It is because we must get it in our whole bodies,” she said. She spoke of times when people helped her to heal by the group “chanting my totem in rhythm.” And since we must be silent no more, we women need to be “the body guards” for the girls, “we constantly improvise, we encircle the problem” and help them tell their stories.

The following day I was facilitating a healing retreat for the Persad Center, an agency that serves persons with HIV/AIDS.  We did InterPlay which involved singing, dancing and telling our stories.  I told them about Betty and her girls and I experienced again, the power of performing arts done in community, to heal.

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