Funds Raised for African Nursing Students at Vagina Monologues

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The lights rose on a warm-colored set, reds and pinks draped over the backdrop. Twelve women filed onstage, sitting on assorted stools, and thus began the Saturday performance of Lafayette's first-ever Vagina Monologues show.

The performance, on Saturday, Mar. 20, was the second of three to benefit the Gretta Foundation, a new local organization that provides nursing school scholarships for students in the developing world. This fits with the Vagina Monologues' mission to end violence against women and girls, according to Marketing Director Laura Windisch. "One of the strongest ways to do that is to empower women," she said. "By educating them, it raises their position in society, and makes violence against women and girls less likely to occur."

Each of the actors delivered an impassioned performance, resulting in a strong overall show at the Lafayette Veterans Memorial Building. Moreover, the actors (ages 17 to "up and above") seemed to honestly believe in their monologues, and their conviction was clear. This gave the show a believability which many other amateur plays never achieve. According to Executive Producer Marie-Louise Juslin, the monologues were written with emotional intensity. "The play touches upon some really serious issues, issues that have to be addressed," she said. "What a wonderful way of addressing it, and making it so that people are entertained and educated all at once."

Juslin, a board member of the Gretta Foundation, emphasized that all 68 participants who contributed to the production were volunteers. "The level of professionalism in this production far exceeds any of the other productions that I've been involved in," she said. But the real give-away was the actors' demeanor onstage during their colleagues' monologues. They weren't just engaged - they were actively enjoying the performances, and that seemed to illustrate the point of the show.

The monologues themselves, written several years ago by Eve Ensler, were all strong, largely funny and deeply emotional. "Down there?" opened one woman. "I haven't been down there since 1953! No, it had nothing to do with Eisenhower." Another woman gleefully recited the "happy fact" that the clitoris has 8,000 nerve endings, compared to only 4,000 in the penis. This was followed by the "not-so-happy fact" that 130 million women had experienced genital mutilation (by 2005). The entire show followed this roller-coaster of emotions, resulting in a cohesive and uniquely engaging show.

Afterward, representatives of the Gretta Foundation took the stage to explain why they put on the performance. 85% of healthcare worldwide is provided by nurses, they said, so the nursing shortage is the single biggest factor crippling health initiatives in developing countries. Sub-Saharan Africa contains 24% of the world's disease burden, but only 3% of its health care workers. That is the reason that the Gretta Foundation is currently sponsoring 12 nursing scholars (7 in Uganda and 5 in Malawi), and that was the reason that this production of the Vagina Monologues was so intensely personal for all of its participants.

"There's two great pleasures in what we're doing," said President Meg Styles of the Gretta Foundation. "One is changing the lives of the women in Africa, and the second is the volunteers who come out to support our work... Those are the two things that are the most powerful."

EBAC thanks the Gretta Foundation for access to this show.

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