WATCH: South African children learn about animal welfare through theatre

In the video above we get a peek into the “Twinning Project”, a key part of IFAW’s Animal Action Education programme activities. The team has been working with Jungle Theatre Company for 10 years on this unique initiative which brings together youngsters from different socio-economic backgrounds to learn about animal welfare related issues.

This post, authored by Lorraine Tanner, managing director of Jungle Theatre Company, demonstrates how community theatre for families raises awareness on environmental, social and cultural issues.  --LCH



In March IFAW and Jungle Theatre Company staged a run of A Dog’s Life, a play and theatre workshop for 6-9 year olds, focusing on domestic animal welfare in Cape Town, South Africa. This year’s programme was hosted at the Baxter Theatre Centre for nearly 800 learners over five days. The ‘Twinning” concept sees privileged and middle class schools supporting underprivileged schools to participate by contributing towards transport costs. Schools in the impoverished communities of Athlone and Bontehewel were targeted as recipients for the programmme, meaning that IFAW was able to do a focused campaign in specific communities supported by the Western Cape Education Department.

The cast of A Dog’s Life comprises young actors from townships who have received training in acting for an audience of children and youth by Jungle Theatre Company. They have performed A Dog’s Life, which was originally written by Stuart Palmer as part of Jungle Theatre Company, together for nearly four years.

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Participating in educational theatre has helped the actors to better understand issues of animal welfare with the unintended spin-off of helping people in their own communities become more compassionate towards animals and to give pets a healthier life.

“With the experience I’ve gained from doing the A Dog’s Life show I can tell people about taking care of their pets and I can lead by example to others, particularly the children in my community. Leading the workshop gives me strength to pass the message to the children, it is a great opportunity,” says Cebisa Fubesi, who leads the workshop and plays a number of supporting roles in the show.

Puppeteer Athenkosi Dyantyi, who manipulates “Angel” the life-sized dog who is the star of A Dog’s Life says “pets should be kept healthy; they have feelings and should be treated with care. My neighbour is always at work so when he is not around, I make sure I feed his dogs.”

The main characters in the play have a strong connection with the audience and teach the children about personal choices and responsibility.

Siyawandisa Badi who plays the role of gangster Bra G said: “During performances of A Dog’s Life at the Baxter, the children were really upset with Bra G. That shows me I’m playing my role well and it makes me motivated to spread the word.”

Seyiso Qhola who plays the lead role of John said: “After the show, children always compliment me because John takes care of dogs. Now I can’t keep quiet if someone abuses a pet.”

The intervention has already received great feedback from participating teachers from all schools, who confirm that a lot of learning can be achieved through an interactive and multi-sensory process such as theatre. Labiance Primary learners said they understood: “How to take care of pets; how to treat animals; not to steal and to only have a pet if you can care for it.”

IFAW’s “Twinning” approach not only creates an opportunity for young children to foster compassion for animals, it helps to create equal education opportunities and break down barriers that still exist in the social geography of South Africa.

--Lorraine Tanner 

For more information about IFAW education efforts around the world, visit our campaign page.

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Cynthia Milburn, Director, Animal Welfare Outreach & Education
Senior Advisor, Policy Development
Faye Cuevas, Esq.
Senior Vice President
Jan Hannah, Campaign Manager, Northern Dogs Project
Campaign Manager, Northern Dogs Project