Alex Mavrocordatos
Publication Date
December 1, 2004

Centre for the Arts in Development Communications

This 80-page document, written for United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) Sudan by the Centre for the Arts in Development Communications (cdcArts), presents a qualitative evaluation of the Theatre for Life (TFL) programme, which is part of UNICEF Sudan's Child Friendly Community Initiative (CFCI). The programme is rooted in the schools of villages where the CFCI is active. Children perform plays designed to deliver 10 key messages around child protection, education, and (more recently) child survival and child rights.

The evaluation had three major objectives: to provide an analytical and comprehensive picture of the current TFL structure; to analyse the quality of messages disseminated by the groups; and to assess the impact of the project on knowledge, attitudes, and practices of children, teachers, and community members. More specifically, the evaluators were asked to assess whether TFL is an effective tool for community education, if the TFL groups continue to need support from UNICEF, if they could be used for passing on other messages and promoting children's rights, and how the TFL structure should be modified for expansion into new communities.

The team visited seven villages, and used various participatory techniques to gather information. This included participatory observation, transect walks (a mobile interview in which the research team walks from the centre of the village to the outer limit of the territory, accompanied by several local informants), SWOT (Strength Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analysis, focus group discussions using semi-structured interviews, and plenary village meetings. Specially prepared theatre performances were organised, and a structured questionnaire was developed in order to collect specific data about audiences, performances, and health information, as well as relevant demographic data.

The evaluation reports a number of findings, both positive and negative. The team found that: TFL is an effective tool for community education; people believe that it encourages discussion in home and social contexts; and performances are always well attended. However, the research found that the format of the messages is out of date and not geared toward children. The process is also not child-centred: in spite of the project documentation, the work in the field was not always fully mindful of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), to which UNICEF is also committed. It found that basic information passes successfully, but it is not clear that it is well understood, and that TFL falls short of its potential for community mobilisation. The research also showed that TFL does not reach all sections of the community, and that many of those not taking part may be the very people who most need the messages. TFL leaders at village level are teachers who receive one week's training; the evaluation found that this is insufficient to go beyond basic theatre-making and acting skills and that there is a felt need for further training. The report also found that performances tend to resemble animated lectures, do not engage audiences in educated debate leading to informed choices, and sometimes contain inaccuracies.

The evaluation states that as originally conceived, the project is no longer appropriate, but the presence of the TFL/CFCI infrastructure is a valuable asset that should be capitalised upon. The author provides a list of recommendations for redefining and improving TFL. These include the following:

  • The project must adopt a child-centred approach, with children accepted as creative partners in a creative process. In fact, children should eventually be working independently of the school structure, preparing plays according to their own vision.
  • CFCI staff should be trained in using TFL for social mobilisation.
  • Trainers and facilitators should broaden the base of TFL to include sectors of the community not currently involved, and explore ways of working with out-of-school children.
  • Performances should move away from the current didactic format. Instead, problem-posing dramas should be devised that present issues, social contradictions, and related personal dilemmas - without prescribing solutions. These plays could explore audience participation or at least provoke facilitated public discussion.

The study also contains a number of recommendations related to the organisational structure of TFL and its coordination, as well as TFL facilitator training, and monitoring, evaluation, and reporting.

The evaluation concludes that the TFL programme has the potential to be an exciting and fertile ground for cultural action that generates social change. In order to realise that potential, radical paradigm shifts in attitude and practice will need to be effected at all levels. Initiatives from below need to be encouraged and allowed to carry the same weight as suggestions from above. Children should be at the heart of the creative process - once they feel themselves to be part of the process, they may become interested enough to take it on as their own.


Centre for the Arts in Development Communications website on July 2 2009 and October 2 2009; and emails from Alex Mavrocordatos to The Communication Initiative on October 15 2009 and October 17 2009.