Our stage, our story

“It is summer; we are going out to pick fresh jujubes.

One jujube, two jujubes, three jujubes… ten jujubes.

Ten jujubes, nine jujubes, eight jujubes…two jujubes, one jujube.”


Zhang (middle) playing an icebreaker game with other children in the camp.


Children’s voices travel from Suichuan County’s village committee building in the Ji’an City of Jiangxi Province. 13-year-old Zhang and twenty-nine children are practicing breathing exercises. They have joined the summer camp co-organized by World Vision, the township government, and the village committee.


“Education or community theatre is a form of applied theatre. It is not like the conventional stage performance or movies we see. Applied theatre uses theatrical methods to promote personal growth and effective learning for its participants, and it can be a useful tool to serve community groups. It uses the element of play, and children, in particular, naturally learn and strive well when there is an element of fun involved. That is why we are using a method that will help us engage with the children.” Says Kou Wei, a World Vision staff who specializes in applied theatre and is facilitating the summer camp.


Kou Wei (in black T-shirt) leading a discussion with children and volunteers about what the needs are in their community to use as the message of their play.


Zhang had never participated in a summer camp before. His family consists of his five-year-old brother, parents, and grandparents. His father works in another city and comes home every two or three months. His mother has a job in the town and also does farming with his grandfather. During summer vacations, Zhang usually did his homework, watched TV, played with his cousins, or visited his maternal grandmother’s house. He signed up for the summer camp when he learned from the village committee about the event. “I played many different games in the summer camp. I am thrilled because I made four new friends and learned how to perform,” a smiling Zhang tells us.


The drums roll. Zhang and other camp participants walked onto the mat and took a moment to focus their minds. Then the drumming stopped, “What is your favorite color?” Kou Wei asked. All the participants answered loudly. The drum started again, and everyone walked silently, focusing their mind on their current emotions. “What is your favorite and least favorite thing to do every day?” Everyone said their answer. The drums roll again, and the process repeats. Kuo Wei asks another question: “What would you like to happen, and what do you least want to happen?”. Every child answers loudly. In the final step, everyone shouts their name and freezes, reflecting on how they felt then.


“This game is called Echo from the Valley. It is to help the participants to focus on themselves step by step, to confront, understand, and concentrate on themselves. This is the first step we have to accomplish. In the next stage, we will use games to help children connect with themselves and look at what they need. The focus is to help children develop self-awareness and introspection, which helps them to perceive problems and see the root causes. During the second stage, we use many team-building games to help children develop their communication skills, work with others and reach consensus, problem-solving, and many other useful skill sets. Children will be able to communicate, articulate, socialize, and lead in the process. The final is a phase of behavioral changes or collective action. Collective action can take place in several degrees; it can be an individual behavioral change or a group behavioral change. This is how we use applied theatre to guide the participation of children through the process of building self-awareness and realizing their personal needs and then designing responses to these needs.” Kou Wei shared.


Zhang (sitting on the chair) worked with other participants to rehearse the play themed “love at home”.


Toward the end of the camp, Kou Wei and her assistants worked with the children to determine three themes they cared most about. The children decided to create two play performances about "love at home" and "kindness in school." They encouraged children to share their experiences and expectations to enrich the content of the plays and helped them with casting, props and rehearsal.


“My best memory of the summer camp is rehearsing with other participants. I play two roles in the “love at home” play: as a father and as a child. I’m quite satisfied with my performance because I did not laugh. I get very excited when performing; I want to laugh, but I must hold it. I will do my best during our final performance on the last night of our camp.” Zhang says.


Zhang did enjoy himself during the camp, actively shared his ideas and opinions, and took the initiative to care for other children. However, Zhang failed to integrate into the event and establish sound relationship with other participants during the beginning of the camp. He participated in the games and had opportunities to understand his inner needs and learn how to better communicate with others. He then gradually changed. "I have never participated in an event like this before, and no one has told me what I learned here," Zhang told Kou Wei.


Zhang is well-liked by other children. Here are some of the praises they shared: “You express yourself a lot and speak very well”; “You have great ideas”; “You were excellent today and shared your ideas bravely. Well done!”; "You acted very well, and your expression was perfect."


Kuo Wei was also impressed by Zhang, “I am surprised by his change during the camp. Later, he would try to resolve disputes and problems among other children and help them reconcile. Zhang generously contributed ideas when we were discussing the topic of the performance and practically took on the role of playwriter and director during rehearsal time. He acted in three acts of the “love at home” play. When some of the children lost their focus, he encouraged them and pushed them to rehearse until we could complete the performance.”


On the 19th of August evening, a performance was organized as the ending of the summer camp held at the basketball court of the township government building. The children performed their plays about “love at home” and “kindness in school”. Their performance was greeted by great applause from the audience.


Zhang says: “I would like to join the summer camp again, and I will bring my younger brother along next year.”


Kou Wei is touched by the response, “We are just like a farmer sowing the seed by organizing this event; the children take in nutrients and grow. It inspires, motivates, and gives us faith when we see the change our hard work has created, and gives us strength to persevere child protection work in our ministry.”