Just back from Brazil, I have a rich and diverse set of images in my head as I reflect upon my visit to 2 cities – São Paulo and São Luis.
One is a city of 20 million people in the south; the other in the north east, at the heart of a long-standing Plan programme unit, where increasing prosperity cannot disguise the poverty that lies in its rural areas.
Brazil is a continent, not a country. It takes most of a day to travel from São Paulo to São Luis, including around 4 hours in the air.
Plan is now beginning to develop health programmes in some of the poorest districts of São Paulo, in partnership with NIVEA. This is very exciting, and a welcome legacy of the global partnership that Plan brokered with NIVEA some 4 years ago. This is new ground for Plan, in new areas of this vast city.
In São Luis, I saw another impressive corporate partnership, which is in its second stage. The Young Health Programme focuses on sexual and adolescent health, and is funded by Astra Zeneca. Describing it so factually does nothing to convey its vigour and energy, which blew me away.
We enter a meeting space – an intersection of classrooms – at the Dayse Galvão School in the Vila Embratel community. The audience of young teenagers is expectant, waiting to see a theatrical production using a makeshift puppet theatre – the set for fictional Radio Plan!
The radio show's plot invites young listeners to ask questions about birth control. The first action is a hilarious puppet show with wild presenters and mad doctors. But soon the puppeteers leave the safety of the wacky puppet theatre and turn up to conduct live interviews with their audience.
There is song and dance, and no subject is taboo. Moving with some style from the case for birth control, the largely female cast tackle how to use condoms (both male and female versions), including practical demonstrations involving members of the audience.
One student – a male heartthrob – is persuaded to show his technique. Gales of embarrassed laughter engulf the audience as he is told off for ripping open the condom packet with his teeth.
A model vagina is used to demonstrate the effectiveness of the female condom. Then audience members burst a set of balloons containing sexual health questions and have to answer them in front of their peers. This is audience engagement with no hiding place, but delivered with good humour tackling powerful issues.
I have seen theatre used in some parts of Plan to tackle child marriage and HIV and AIDS, but this production has the audience entranced. It is so near the edge, and performed without artifice or self-consciousness. Making sex and its related health issues so real and so funny is a whole league better than addressing them through formal teaching and textbooks.
After the show, we get a chance to talk to the cast and the health facilitators who spread the message among the young people of São Luis. The female members of the cast talk about how they persuaded their parents to let them take part. They tell us how the experience has improved relationships within their families at a time when friction can often be the order of the day.
One mother talks movingly of how proud she is of her 2 daughters for having the courage to perform this kind of material in schools and community centres.
The next generation of health facilitators will soon be taking over from this cast, and you can see them taking confidence from the stories they hear.
We can measure the number of young people reached by this project (which runs into tens of thousands in the São Luis area).
But, for me, equally as powerful as the numbers is how our programmes create leaders among young people, with the confidence to tackle difficult subjects in front of their peers.
Articulate and knowledgeable, they left everyone thinking about the guts it took to do that. It made me and the Plan Brazil team proud of how we are helping to increase vital knowledge of sexual and health issues.
And we are supporting a generation who need that knowledge to navigate the challenges of being an adolescent in modern day Brazil.