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Acting Up

On a hot day in the central Nepalese village of Mahadev Besi, hundreds gather to watch The Policeman’s Moustache. The play features a brothel owner who tricks a family into selling their two teenage daughters to him, supposedly to work in a carpet factory. It’s a common scenario in Nepal, where 5,000 to 7,000 girls are sold into the global sex trade every year. In the drama, the girls are rescued, but they are HIV positive. Between the punch lines and sight gags, actors slip in critical info about AIDS and sex trafficking. The performance is funded and organized by the General Welfare Pratisthan (GWP), a nonprofit group working to halt the spread of HIV, which afflicts at least 34,000 Nepalese. The idea for the play was developed by socially minded musicians who realized that handing out pamphlets about HIV/AIDS was not effective, since those most susceptible to the disease or to sex trafficking are illiterate. Today, The Policeman’s Moustache is staged six times a month in Nepal—particularly along highways where truckers pick up prostitutes. GWP workers announce the performance by megaphone and reach out to audience members once it’s over. “I already knew about AIDS,” says one young woman. “But now I understand how traffickers try to trick us.”

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