The project involved three initiatives designed to bring science to the forefront of people's minds in an engaging and entertaining way through theatre productions, lively debate, and informed writing. Sharing knowledge with these groups was designed to develop an understanding of the value and need for scientific research.
I. Science Theatre:
In November 2009, the public engagement team of the OUCRU-Vietnam WT-MOP in Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC), Vietnam, commenced work on the first stage of this public engagement in science project. The first endeavour was a children's theatre production, "An Amazing Battle", focusing on bacterial enteric diseases, hygiene, and antibiotic resistance. After the collaborating host institution, The Hospital for Tropical Diseases, approved the topics, pre-production work began. Thai Duong Theatre Company (a company with experience in children's theatre and potential for publicity) collaborated with the public engagement team, which worked to ensure scientific accuracy, as the two groups carried out: script-writing, set design, costume design, sound design, rehearsals, preliminary discussions with school principals, applications to the relevant Vietnamese authorities for approval of the script and permission to conduct the project, announcements to local media, and website construction.
Research scientists with OUCRU-Vietnam in HCMC provided the educational content for the show, and this formed the foundation of the story. Incorporating Vietnamese folklore characters such as Ong Dia, the round, happy God of the Earth who symbolises prosperity, and Thanh Giong, a mythological Vietnamese warrior, the public engagement team and Thai Duong Theatre developed what was intended to be an engaging story that creatively incorporates educational content in an accessible format for children. The story illuminates the causes and prevention of bacterial infection and cultivates awareness about antibiotic resistance. When a young boy discovers Ong Dia has fallen ill, he and Thanh Giong use magical powers to become microscopic and travel into the abyss of Ong Dia's round belly to uncover the mystery of his ailment. With the help of an extremely meticulous doctor and a friendly bacterium, the child and Thanh Giong learn about the sources and prevention of bacterial infection, as well as the accurate and safe treatment method.
Actors who are locally well-known through popular children's television shows took part in the production. This provided an opportunity to enhance media coverage and foster engagement of the children. In total, there were 4 primary actors, 3 secondary actors, and 2 sound technicians. The show is interactive. Children explore an "Amazing Battle" printed booklet before the show begins. The show starts with a warm-up competition between the boys' team and the girls' team to discover "who has better hygiene habits - boys or girls?"
A media conference was held at Highlands Cafe in District One, HCMC, on March 9 2010. The public engagement team hosted a journalist conference prior to the first performance. The conference was attended by 12 journalists: 10 from Vietnamese newspapers and 2 foreign journalists from local English-language magazines. The press received an approved media release document and further information about the WT-MOP at the conference. A question and answer session was conducted to clarify the aims of the project and activities of the OUCRU. The first production for the Board of Education and Media followed the media conference at Tran Cao Van Theatre, HCMC.
The journalist conference was followed immediately by the first performance of the show at Tran Cao Van Theatre in District One, HCMC. Local journalists and representatives from 27 primary schools and 3 delegates from the Department of Education were invited to attend the first performance. All school representatives received an information packet which included the press release, proposed timetables of school productions, and information about the project. Following the show, the public engagement team, the school representatives, and the members from the Board of Education met in the theatre. At this time, schools were able to inquire about the project and discuss ideas and suggestions. The public engagement team received permission from the Board of Education and the Board of Health, which enabled school performances to commence.
School productions of An Amazing Battle were performed 31 times in 28 public schools and several other institutions, including non-governmental organisation (NGO) projects for disadvantaged children, in HCMC from April-May 2010. It was viewed by over 25,000 students in schools throughout HCMC and, according to organisers, received extensive positive feedback from the children and school principals, in addition to media coverage in the local press and on television (The project was featured in over 20 Vietnamese newspapers and magazines, as well as a local English-language publication. Two local TV stations also broadcast enthusiastic features on the project.)
In the second year of the project (2011), An Amazing Battle focused on reaching children in remote areas of the Mekong Delta and on disadvantaged children in suburb districts of HCMC. Nine young potential actors of the "Smile Puppet" group took part in the production instead of well-known actors. It was performed in 17 public schools, 2 hospitals in provinces around the Mekong Delta, and 3 cultural centres in Long An, Dong Thap, Tien Giang, and Vinh Long provinces, and in the rural city district of Cu Chi. An estimated 15,000 children and parents attended these shows.
In 2012, OUCRU-Vietnam was awarded a three year grant from Sanofi Espoir Foundation to continue the project. The organisers continued to work with Thai Duong Theatre Company and presented 20 live theatre shows in 20 schools in the rural delta province of Ben Tre. In total, over 11,330 children watched the shows. OUCRU-Vietnam negotiated a contract with VTV9 TV channel to film the show, which aired on national TV twice. It was also recorded onto DVD; 1,000 copies were made and distributed. Using the DVD, three more events were held at local paediatric hospitals and a school for handicapped children. The shows started with a song, games, and a short talk from a doctor. The children watched the show on a big screen and then were presented with gifts of a bar of soap and snacks. 500 children attended the 3 DVD shows. This project will continue for another two years with SEF funding.
II. Science Cafe
Cafe Khoa Hoc is a venue for a cup of coffee or soft drink where people can debate science issues in a non-academic environment. It is designed to be a friendly forum for people to get insights into questions they may otherwise not consider and to share their ideas about the latest or the most burning modern science- and health-related issues in a deeper manner. The first science café on Bioethics in Clinical Research was organised at the University of Medicine and Pharmacy in March 2011. It was attended by 55 students, 5 university representatives, 7 journalists, and 1 TV reporter.
Designed for science journalists and scientists who interact with the media, there have been two sets of workshops. One took place July 7-13 2011. Goals included: providing skills and updated knowledge in communicating science to the public for science journalists; providing solutions for science journalists to overcome barriers in their work; providing skills and knowledge of communicating science to the general public for scientists; and bridging the gap between scientists and science journalists.