Kennedy Folasi never dreamt that his community development assignment would, more than ten years later, grow into a well-respected community transformation tool in Solomon Islands.
Kennedy is the founder of DreamCast Theatre, a non-profit organisation which uses theatre performance, radio plays, music and interactive community games to educate communities, particularly youth, around issues like HIV/STI, pregnancy, drugs and alcohol, and domestic violence.
Targeting young people and unemployed youth is what Kennedy believes is the key to positive change:
“Back in 2005, I had to design a program that involved young people for my community development assignment. At that time, after the tensions in Solomon Islands, I was a volunteer in a drama group with Save the Children through the Children Youth Outreach Peace Program. During the tensions, schools closed down and youth were getting involved in bad social situations and even joining the militants. Through Save the Children, I saw how drama was being used as a platform for raising awareness. I had the opportunity to then travel to Sydney for the Oxfam Youth Parliament and was encouraged to apply for a small grant – that was the catalyst for Dreamcast in the beginning.”
Since then, Dreamcast has travelled to communities around Honiara and out to the provinces to train young people in scriptwriting, basic drama and radio techniques. Involving youth in the script research is fundamental to the process, says Dreamcast President and original crew member Neil Nuia.
“We become champions for the issues that we preach. I know about gender-based violence because of my work with Dreamcast, as one of the first group of volunteers in the organisation. We draw on our own experiences, on our mothers and grandmothers. We write them down in a closed and anonymous process and then we all share and use those in our script writing. Some people cry during the process. Everyone has their own stories. It’s powerful because we use real experiences, so that we can avoid [these issues] in the future.”
What is the response from communities? Kennedy says that most of the Dreamcast work is delivered with other organisations who continue discussions and engagement with the community following a performance. The feedback from partners has highlighted the effect of their work.
“They’ve told us that women understand their rights more, especially when violence is happening in their community. Some don’t have confidence or literacy. Through drama and role play we are letting them know that abuse is not just physical – it’s emotional too. Part of our program is talking about referrals and service providers.”
The impact is not only felt by the communities, but has changed the lives of the Dreamcast crew.
Henry Oti was part of the original crew and now works for Ministry of Health. He laughs when he explains how he was not even targeted for the Dreamcast recruitment, but turned up to the training when he wondered where everyone had gone. That ‘fear of missing out’ (commonly termed, FOMO) led him to become a qualified trainer under the Theatre for Development module, and he now sits on the Dreamcast board grooming the next generation of youth champions.
Henry says empowering youth and being part of their positive change has been most inspiring.
“Most of us are high school dropouts. Dreamcast is like an education but on another level. The message to young people is that to be a Dreamcast volunteer is life changing. You become a great public speaker, you gain recognition and this leadership means you are looked up to in the community. One girl in particular left school and has now become a master facilitator for community training. We mentor young people and watch them go from an actor to a facilitator or training, teaching people twice their age who are a Deputy Principal or community leader.”
The Dreamcast influence on the community and youth extends beyond just educating and informing. There are guiding principles that the crew have to commit to, which encourage them to change bad behaviours, such as drinking alcohol in the village. “Instead, we go dancing,” Henry exclaims. And informal bonds in the group mean they keep an eye on each other, and check on those youth that haven’t been attending.
Dreamcast is also sparking ideas and innovation amongst the young volunteers, the next generation of Solomon Islands leaders, encouraging them in business and entrepreneurship. The Dreamcast board has been working tirelessly on partnerships with the non-government organisations but now want to take it to social enterprises, and the business community.
Kennedy’s Dreamcast dream is this:
“We want to get youth from other communities go through the same experience that we went through. We are going to reach out to other communities in Honiara too. It’s a big dream, it’s bigger than what we have now but it’s not impossible. We can still do it for another fifty years. The future, maybe it’s not ours, but it’s our children’s.”