Preventing HIV with Youth Theater
This project's primary goal was to prevent the spread of #HIV in the #Velingara region. Adolescents were the target group. Our first objective was to develop radio programming related to HIV/AIDS. The second objective was to train youth, who would then train their peers in theater techniques. The third objective was to travel to communities in the Velingara area and perform sketches that addressed HIV prevention, forced marriage, and unplanned pregnancy.
The Velingara region (located on the national highway between Tambacounda and Kolda) consists of roadside urban communities, surrounded by rural villages. It is a crossroads area where the Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, Guinea, and Mali meet. Markets like the one in Diawbe attract transient workers who connect rural villages with urban centers as far as Cote Ivoire. HIV prevelance in Senegal is not yet as serious a problem as in some South and East African communities, but areas like Velingara are at risk - and prevention is all about beginning early.
Social Cognitive Theory, a framework developed by psychologist Albert Bandura, posits that knowledge acquisition is directly related to observing others within the context of social interactions, experiences, and outside media influences. Youth and adults alike are more likely to adopt behaviors that have been modeled for them: people want to see examples of what they are being told to do. Behavior is the result of personal and environmental factors, and any effective health program should address both. Studies have shown that adolescents respond to messages they deem credible, and that information provided by peers and media (radio, television) tend to be sources they trust. This project was created to meet adolescents' personal preference for credible sources of information, and to use behavior modeling to affect positive changes in sexual habits and attitudes. A local theater group developed radio programs with information about HIV/AIDS. Three area #radio stations played these sketches (in Pular) for two months. In the meantime, the group trained in elementary and middle school students in theater techniques. April and May were were spent traveling to 7 villages in the Velingara region. Sketches on HIV/AIDS, forced marriage, and unplanned pregnancy were played in each village. In each village, health extension agents, school directors, and local leadership were consulted. With their permission and support the theater group performed in markets, elementary and middle schools, and village meeting areas. Popular music and dance was incorporated into each program, and theater sketches used humor to broach sensitive topics.
Our group recorded radio emissions on HIV/AIDS, Malaria Prevention, Unwanted Pregnancy, and Forced Marriage. These emissions were played over a series of 3 months on the Tamba, Velingara, and Radio Diawbe radio stations. While difficult to measure the impact this had on such a large listening area, we were able to establish that a majority of those who attended our subsequent theater performances had heard the radio shows. The group visited 7 villages and exposed over 1,500 men, women, and children to realistic scenarios and constructive suggestions related to HIV/AIDS spread and prevention. In a follow up visit to Medinia Affia the community health agent told us that she had rarely been asked for condoms before our performance, but than in the month after our visit she had given out two cartons. This is especially good news because Medinia Affia is home to a large number of male plantation workers who interact with communities beyond their village.
As a result of this tourney the group has been contacted by Peace Corps volunteers in Velingara, Kounkane, and Kedagou with proposals for similar activities. We look forward to seeing this program's successes being replicated on larger scale this year!
Training trainers, especially youth training their peers, is an incredibly effective means of ensuring skill transfers and knowledge acquisition make a lasting impact. While it is difficult to measure the impact of this type of program in the long-term, a follow up series of questions, asked of a sampling in each village where performances were made (6 months to a year from now), would give a rough idea of how well information was retained.