FOR A long time, St Mary’s in Kidlington, Oxford diocese, had a link with the South African black township of Monshiwa, outside Mafeking. It seemed to be mostly on a clergy-to-clergy level, says the Team Rector, the Revd Tony Ellis, but when he and his wife Kathryn arrived they wanted to turn it into something that involved more of the parish. The two of them went out there to visit, and the following year took a group from the parish with them. Then, last summer, 33 people from Monshiwa came to visit Kidlington.
What has become clear is the huge problem of HIV/ AIDS from which so many of the population are suffering and dying. Yet the stigma is still so intense that it is not talked about. “In South Africa, you don’t die of Aids,” says Mrs Ellis. “You die; but the accepted explanation is that you ‘got sick’.” So, to help with teaching HIV/AIDS prevention in the South African villages, the parish have been making puppets out of scraps of wool and fabric, constructed like glove puppets, so that they can be put on empty bottles to move around. There is a script, and props, to go with them, packed into a box like a mini travelling theatre.
Mrs Ellis, and her project collaborator Eleanor Williamson, hope that telling a story with the puppets will make it easier to talk about sex to the illiterate villagers; and the script has built in much humour, to make it even easier. They have had the help of Masi Cowper, a prominent AIDS activist in South Africa, who has the disease herself; and they have just taken the puppets out to South Africa, where they have been staying with Ms Cowper’s mother.