Since the creation of the Arab States Youth Peer Education Network (Y-PEER) a decade ago, theatre and acting techniques have been a cornerstone of the peer education curriculum to help disseminate information and raise awareness about adolescent sexual and reproductive health and HIV prevention.
With 60 per cent of Arab populations under the age of 25, awareness of reproductive health, comprehensive sexuality education, healthy lifestyles, and civic engagement are more essential and timely than ever.
This year, the UNFPA Arab States Regional Office joined forces with performance arts centres across the Arab States region to lead peer education trainings. In partnership with the National Centre for Culture and Arts (NCCA) of the King Hussein Foundation in Jordan (NCCA), it led its first theatre based Y-PEER training. It marks an ambitious stepping stone towards a future where more Arab youth will make informed choices and play a leading role in their own sexual and reproductive health.
“Drama can put people in new roles, going beyond their zones of comfort, which can empower them to break barriers and bring about social change,” says Lina Attel, Director General of the NCCA.
Peer education meets performance arts
The theatre training, which was recently accredited by the International Theatre Institute under UNESCO guidelines, is geared towards participants from across the Arab region. It teaches future trainers and counsellors how theater skills and participatory drama methodology can be applied to raise awareness about sexual reproductive health and civic engagement among youth.
“The objective of the initiative is to provide the young peer-educators with specialized training, to enable them to deliver effective and dynamic messages that will encourage a change of attitude and behaviour among their fellow youth”, says Aleksandar Bodiroza, Youth Advisor with the UNFPA Arab States Regional Office.
The NCAA has extensive experience with acting, directing, script-writing, and dancing, and is behind the interactive theatre methodology used in this initiative.
Issues like sexual and reproductive health, HIV prevention, and women’s rights are often perceived as complex controversial issues across the region.
“The interactive theatre techniques can help to present these issues in new innovative ways, which can eventually raise the level of engagement and lead to improved understanding among young Arabs,” says Mohammad Mahjoub, a young participant from Egypt. “It was an empowering and personal experience.”
A Teenager in Our House
‘A Teenager in our House’ was the title of one the plays performed by the Y-PEER participants this year. It addressed issues like puberty, comprehensive sexuality education, HIV/AIDS, and other health issues.
Mayson Al Aryiani, a young participant from Yemen, sees these workshops and techniques as important tools in her role as a peer educator. “My participation in this training has enriched my knowledge and improved my capabilities to use interactive theatre in my work," she says. "It can also help to transform the attitudes and behaviour of Yemeni youth."