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Magnet Theatre Project

By working within communities in Siaya County, the Magnet Theatre Project was envisaged to bring together young people to access and contribute to the dialogue about HIV, sexual and reproductive health rights (SRHR) and to demand instigation and utilisation of the services related to HIV/SRHR.

Theatre is a highly effective means of effectively mobilising and teaching large groups of people in a short period of time.

Young people are able to make informed choices when they are provided with the right information, in the right way and at the right time, and there is no better way than through theatre.

Magnet Theatre is a form of community theatre that typically takes place in outdoor, public spaces

Its intervention is designed to entertain, educate and involve audience members in the action, encouraging the kind of participation and reflection that is key to sustained behaviour change. 

The hour-long performances explore issues affecting a community and encourage discussion and problem solving with audience members. The actors perform a drama that presents a dilemma based on community issues. The audience participates by offering suggestions to the characters or by taking the place of an actor and acting out solutions to the dilemma.

Magnet Theatre encourages audience members to discuss solutions and allows them to experiment in a safe environment, to encourage individual and community-wide change.

Magnet Theatre is different from other forms of community theatre because it targets and attracts a specific and repeat audience, takes place at a regular time at a specific venue, and serves as a forum for magnification of behaviour change.

Magnet Theatre has produced some of Mildmay Kenya’s most visible examples of behaviour change.
Two of the Magnet Theatre's performers
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More to be done:

The “KAA RADA KUWA SMARTTA” programme (an urban dialect expression meaning be careful, be wise) is an educational theatre project targeting Kenyan young people in Siaya County.

The project uses performances and community theatre to raise awareness and understanding of sex, sexuality and HIV by retelling the true stories of young people. Through this engagement, we help children, young people, and their families to access HIV testing, treatment and sexual health services. The performances will promote diversity, compassion and understanding, and encourage networking between young people to advocate for better HIV and SRHR in their area.

Through theatre, we want to inspire young people to take action and speak up about barriers to HIV prevention, care and treatment in Siaya county.

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During the project period, we reached over 16,000 young people with HIV and Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights information and services through the integrated community outreaches.

Several activities were arranged during outreach to saturate the young people with as much information as possible as well as ensure that they were linked to the services based on need.


There remains the need to reach more young people through theatre and to include governance and its effect on service delivery.
Besides this project, there is little investment by the government in the arts, whether visual or performing arts.
If young people cannot relate governance and its effect on access to quality healthcare, education or employment
opportunities, then the chance to see an empowered generation will be lost.
Street in Siaya County

Snapshot of activities that support the Magnet Theatre Project:

We conducted 5-day Magnet Theatre training for 10 volunteer young people who have been supporting the outreach sessions. The young people are meant to mentor their peers who will in turn volunteer to conduct edutainment sessions at community level to mobilise young people to access RH/HIV information and services.

We conducted two Magnet Theatre sessions to support the mobilisation of young people to attend World AIDS Day. This yielded 215 young people attending, 49 girls accessing HPV vaccine, 32 were screened for cervical cancer, 15 accessed family planning services and 102 accessed HIV testing services.

We conducted a 2-day Sensitisation Workshop for 15 youth group leaders on HIV prevention, care and treatment so that they give the correct information whilst mentoring their teams for theatre.

We had a meeting with the Sub-County Health Management Teams to discuss program progress and challenges to future plans. This also provided a forum to make some members understand how they could use Magnet Theatre for health promotion in their various departments.

We conducted a one-day quarterly youth group leaders workshop for 10 leaders to reflect on the successes and mitigation of challenges in this programme.

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Siaya County

Siaya County Map

Location of Siaya County

(click to enlarge)

Siaya county in Kenya is a poor region that falls far behind the national progress made in fighting HIV. The burden of HIV in Siaya stands at 24.8%. In the province where Siaya County is located, 6.2% of youth aged 15-24 are living with HIV. This is three-times higher than the national youth HIV prevalence rate.

Siaya County
  • Mildmay Institutions and Missions
    "Of institutions for the training of women in Christian work and philanthropy, there is none more widely known than that of Mildmay. It has now two hundred and twenty workers engaged in its various departments, including deaconesses, nurse, probationers, and students in training for foreign work. It was one of the earliest institutions in this country, if not the first, to revive in modern times the ancient office of deaconess. This had been done by Pastor and Madame Fliedner at Kaiserswerth, on the Rhine, the Alma Mater of Florence Nightingale, and it was on a visit to Kaiserswerth that the Rev. William Pennefather and his wife Catherine received inspiration for founding the Mildmay Mission. This mission was started in 1860, when Mr. Pennefather was vicar of Christ Church, Barnet. Both he and his wife were deeply interested in foreign missions, and their first venture was a missionary training home for women. This formed the nucleus of Mildmay. The scheme was greatly developed when Mr. Pennefather removed to St. Jude's, Mildmay Park, in 1864. The training of women for parochial work was now begun. The name of deaconess was adopted for these workers, and in time the training home was changed to Deaconess House. The period of the foundation of the mission was one of great awakening on the part of educated women to the Christian Church's need for their service in the more public spheres of philanthropy. From her invalid's room, the "heroine of the Crimea" was calling to the leisured women of her day to be up and doing. One of Florence Nightingale's earliest essays was a plea for the revival of the office of deaconess. Mr. and Mrs. Pennefather chose this name for their workers (Deaconesses) after prayerful consideration. It was novel, but it was apostolic. The devotion of the founders to the mission is known throughout Christendom. Mr. Pennefather made Mildmay the centre for Evangelical Church conferences, which have now been held annually for fifty-one years; and Mrs. Pennefather organised the women's work and started clubs and meetings for poor people. Both have passed to their rest, and memorials to their noble work exist in recent additions to the institution. The headquarters of the mission are at Mildmay Park. The buildings which compose the Mildmay compound are grouped around a central garden. Captain F. L. Tottenham, the superintendent of the mission, has a house in the compound, and is assisted by Mrs. Tottenham as the directress of women's work. The Conference Hall is a handsome building, erected in 1869; and the conferences held there each June attract Christian workers from all parts of the kingdom and from abroad. Throughout the year it is used for services, meetings, and Bible classes connected with the mission. Below the hall are rooms which serve as storehouses for the garments sent to Mildmay for distribution amongst the poor. In one room a weekly sewing class is held for poor widows. They have hot coffee and buns, cheerful and kind people to talk to them, and receive sixpence for their work. The garments are well made and cut out, and the mission is glad to receive orders."
  • Mildmay Institutions And Missions, continued...
    "Lectures in physiology, nursing, health, tropical diseases, surgical work, and a short course of nursing at the Mildmay Medical Mission Hospital, keeping of accounts, sol-fa singing, cooking, and laundry. The directress, Mrs. Tottenham, thus describes the necessary qualification for candidates for deaconess work. " We first need as workers those who are truly converted to God, and really desirous of winning others to Him. There must also be some natural fitness in gifts, temperament, and health." The probation and student houses, situated in the compound, first receive the candidates, who remain for one month on probation. If they like the work and are considered suitable for it, they remain for a period not exceeding two years. The time varies according to the previous knowledge which the students possess. Part of their time is spent in theological study, and they attend classes for cutting out, needlework, cooking, and other practical subjects. They also engage in parochial work under experienced workers. After leaving the student house for the central deaconess house, candidates work, as a rule, in the mission for two or three years longer before they are regarded as qualified to be Mildmay deaconesses. The admission to full membership is signalised by a simple dedication service, conducted by the chaplain of the institution, who is at present (1911) the Rural Dean of Islington. The girls' hostel is provided for educated girls between the ages of eighteen and twenty-three who wish for experience in home mission work. The charge is twenty-five shillings weekly. The Nurses' Home has a pleasant frontage to Newington Green, and is the most historic portion of the settlement. There is a staff of fifty nurses attached to the house, who are sent out to private cases."
  • The life of a Deaconess
    "The Deaconess House adjoins the Conference Hall and has about forty deaconesses in residence. Miss Hankin is deaconess-in-charge. The house is bright and pleasant, with a large room, No. 6, for devotional services and various meetings, and a very spacious drawing room arranged with writing tables and lounges. Each deaconess has her own room or cubicle. The rules of the house are very simple. No vows are taken, but it is expected that love and devotion will keep the residents at their appointed tasks. Ladies are expected, if it is in their power, to pay £50 per year for board. Many who cannot do this are accepted according to their circumstances. Some receive a small allowance for personal expenses. The Mildmay deaconesses work under the clergy in fifteen London parishes. They are engaged in devotional exercises at home, and in house-to-house visitation in the very poorest districts. They pay between forty and fifty visits a week. Each deaconess, as a rule, has charge of a mothers' meeting in her district and gives the address herself. Girls' clubs, boys' clubs, work amongst children, and other good works are also carried on by the deaconesses. Besides parochial work carried on from the central house, some of the deaconesses are employed in the various institutions and homes belonging to the community. Others work further afield - in Malta and Tunbridge Wells; at the Prison Gate Mission, Dublin; the House of Refuge, Oxford; and the Deaconess House at Kingston, Jamaica. One Mildmay deaconess is in charge of the Diocesan Deaconess and Missionary Training House, Toronto, Canada: and another has charge of the Church Ladies' House, founded by the Bishop of Liverpool. The training of a Mildmay deaconess is in accordance with the principles of the Church of England. The curriculum embraces the following subjects: (1) The Old and New Testament, Christian doctrine, history and contents of the Prayer Book, outlines of early Church history and outlines of Christian evidence."
  • The Medical Work of the Mission
    "The Mildmay Mission Hospital, in Austin Street, Bethnal Green, is the centre of a most useful and beneficent work amongst the very poor of East London. There are fifty beds devoted to the needs of destitute patients. A medical mission is held at the hospital on Tuesday and Friday, beginning with a short mission service. There is an average attendance of 150. On other days some 80 or 100 out-patients come for dressings. Patients are also visited in their own homes. "Home," the dearest word in our mother tongue, means a scene of heartbreak to thousands of London's poor. One example may be quoted to show how bravely many bear the misfortunes of poverty. The attention of one of the deaconesses was called to a family who had lately removed to her district. The man and his wife were steady Christian people. They had seven children. The eldest boy (away from home on a training ship) sent them ten shillings per month, the second, earning eight shillings per week, gave his mother five or six shillings per week, keeping a little for clothes. The rent was seven shillings a week, and, through the father being out of work, had fallen into arrears. When the deaconess called she found the family in great distress, without food or fire. "The children never worry me for food, miss, if I haven't any for them," said the mother, " but just say their prayers as usual when they go to bed." She was very grateful for a little help given. A few days later a gift of butter came to Mildmay from the Country House Mission, and the deaconess took a quarter of a pound to this poor family as a special treat. A Pathetic Story It was getting late and dark when she reached the house. Her knock was soon answered, and she stepped inside, to find mother and children quietly gathered together in the little sitting-room without a glimmer of light. A penny in the gas-meter soon remedied that, and the mother said, "My boy was just praying for God to send someone, and when he heard the knock he said, ' There's someone come, mother.'" The deaconess found them without food or fire, but wonderfully patient. She sent one of the boys for bread, and with the nice country butter the family had a nourishing meal.... ...An annual sum of £25,000 is required to support the various agencies connected with Mildmay, and for this amount the mission relies chiefly on voluntary help. Some of the very poor set a wonderful example as donors to its charities. A dear old woman of sixty-seven, who lived in a top attic, earning a precarious living by making patterned rugs and mats out of bits of cloth, sends one of her rugs every year to the Mildmay sale. She only earned four and sixpence a week, and out of that paid two and sixpence for rent, yet she could afford to be generous!"
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Thank you.

We are grateful to the Make a Difference (MAD) Trust for supporting this project in 2019

Thanks to this support, we have additionally been able to incorporate music, drama, poetry and other project activities which have made them more vibrant. 

The health promotion department of the Ministry of Health has engaged with the project and learned better ways to reach youth. “This project you are doing in the village, has made it easy for my officers to give health talks in a very simple and fun way” Says Chieng’, the County Health Promotion Officer in Siaya County.

Because of MAD Trust funding, Mildmay has been invited by several youth groups to mentor their peers and we have reached 50 more young people through 'Trainers of Trainees' than the project originally envisaged.

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