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Gbagba, children's anti-corruption book takes to the stage


The anti-corruption children's book, Gbagba, by 2010 Tutu Fellow Robtel Neajai Pailey has been adapted and turned into a stage play.  The play, which has an all-child cast, made its debut in September 2017 at Monrovia City Hall in Liberia. The children in the ensemble cast were trained for five months by premiere theatre company, Flomo Theatre.  Gbagba is a Bassa word which loosely translated, means 'trickery' or, 'corruption'.  In the book and its stage adaptation, children navigate the confusing ethical codes of the adults in their lives, in places as diverse as traffic jams, schools, churches and markets. The children express clearly and honestly the concrete ways in which gbagba hurts rather than heals society.

Gbagba was originally written by Pailey and illustrated by Chase Walker and published to critical acclaim in 2013 by One Moore Book.  A goal of the book was to facilitate conversations between children and adults in Africa and across the globe about how to be accountable to self, community, nation and world.  Pailey says that “children are the moral compass of Liberia; they are the moral compass of the world. When they start publicly exposing corruption for what it truly is, my hope is that adults will be shamed into living more honestly, with integrity.” 

The play was well received by parents, teachers, and school administrators, and at least 200 theatre-goers enjoyed the performance in the audience on debut day. A parent of one of the cast members informed Pailey her daughter is now the integrity police in their household, pointing out when her parents and siblings are being dishonest. She has been asked by schools that couldn't make it to the debut performance to do a tour throughout Liberia.  Since the play was such a success and the children are so talented, Pailey is seeking funding to take the show on the road for a national tour in the summer of 2018 while the all-child cast is on break from school.

Children in the audience enjoying the play

Since its publication in 2013, the book has been used in schools across Liberia to foster discussion, as well as placed on the supplemental list of readers for 3rd to 5th graders by the Liberian Ministry of Education and for Primary 3 by the Ghana Education Service. Ten more schools are coming on board next year. More than 3,500 copies of the book have been sold and there is interest from the ministries of education in Rwanda, Cameroon, and Burkina Faso to use the book in their civic education curricula.Pailey has conducted Gbagba workshops in Jamaica, Mozambique, the UK, and Liberia, and intends to do more workshops across the globe in years to come.

Gbagba: The Stage Play was made possible through a generous grant from the Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA).

You can also see the 2015 TEDX talk by Pailey on the subject.

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Tuesday, 04 October 2022

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