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Puppets Used To Convey HIV, STDs And Other Tough Topics

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Nash Dhala and Chacha Musya with their puppet counterparts, Ari and Bobby.
Armando Trull
Nash Dhala and Chacha Musya with their puppet counterparts, Ari and Bobby.

About a dozen actors, six young men and six young women, performed a skit Tuesday before a group of residents on the outskirts of the nation's capital — Kenya's version of a mass communication public health announcement. The actors are in town as part of the 19th annual International AIDS Conference.

While large-scale skits help convey their message, more sensitive issues such as rape, female genital mutilation or HIV/AIDS are harder to convey in a conservative society.

"It's very difficult for the actors to act out," says Nash Dhala, a emember of U-Tena in Nairobi. "So two actors acting out a rape scene or a genital mutilation doesn't come across."

For those difficult issues, the troupe turns to Bobby and Ari — two puppets that are each just about two feet tall. In this case, the pair is acting out a skit about HIV testing. Master puppeteer Chacha Musya learned how to make the puppets from a workshop by the Jim Henson company.

"The materials I use are very simple," says Musya. "Materials that you can get anywhere, they’re just trash."

That means the low-cost puppets can be replicated easily as the actors fan out through Kenya.

The U-Tena puppeteers are performing this afternoon at the Global Village of the 2012 International AIDS Conference. Admission to the village is free and open to the public.

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