TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras — What's the best way to inform young people about risks and get them to adopt healthy behaviours? Lecturing can be counterproductive, peer pressure can outweigh common sense, and a belief in invulnerability can overrule risk avoidance.
But often the use of powerful imagery, compelling storylines and youthful voices can break through by appealing to emotions and influencing group values.
At least that's what's driving a diverse group: young rappers in a violent city, thespians in a coastal village, the country's best known folk singer, a religious TV channel, a 24-year-old Minister for Youth affairs and the local office of UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund.
Finding creative solutions
All are committed to reaching young people through 'edutainment' — entertaining productions in a hip vernacular interspersed with educational messages aimed at preventing violence, HIV and early pregnancy. All of these are significant problems among youth in Honduras, where almost a quarter of teenage girls (22 per cent) have been pregnant, 17 per cent of people living with HIV are ages 15 to 24, and 38 per cent of victims of sexual violence are aged 10 to 14. (Statistics from 2006 DHS, Ministry of Health, 2009, and Forensic Medicine Office, 2009, respectively.)
The Youth Art for Behaviour Change project got its start in 2007, when singer Guillermo Anderson proposed that UNFPA support young rappers willing to compose songs with a purpose and the National Theatre Festival asked for support for youth groups producing plays about HIV and early pregnancy.
Three years later, musical videos, short films and a soap opera are being broadcast in local TV stations, schools and youth organizations throughout the country. DVDs have been produced and widely distributed. Showings are followed up by discussion groups involving the youthful audiences as well as teachers, parents and advisors. The productions help to bridge intergenerational gaps and make it easier to broach sensitive subjects.
Catching wide audiences in a receptive mode
Poster for music video, 'Feeling like a Woman.' Right-click image to save high-resolution poster.
Photo © UNFPA
The project is based on the idea that art can effectively spur behaviour change when it is created by young people, informed by styles and rhythms of youth culture and followed by group discussions that reinforce the messages. Partners in the initiative include the Ministry of Health, four UN agencies and the cooperation agencies of Canada, Sweden and the United States.
The TV soap opera 'Different to All', the short film series 'Short Lives' (based on winner playwrights at the National Theater Festival), and the musical videos 'Quiet 'hood'' (Barrio Tranquilo) and 'Feeling like a Woman' are gaining wide audiences and their storylines tend to spark more discussion than textbooks can. As a result, young people are informed about HIV, early pregnancy and violence prevention in the context of being entertained, a time in which they may be open to new ways of looking at things.
Saskia, one of the singers, is enthusiastic about the participation. "Being the only woman in the 'Quiet 'hood' band, I feel like the voice of many silent women and girls,” she said. I feel honored for this opportunity to send messages to them about early pregnancy, HIV and violence."
The Minister for Youth Affairs, Marco Midence, agrees. "Promoting culture and art, as 'Quiet 'Hood'' does, prevents Honduran young people from risks such as drugs, HIV and adolescent pregnancy," said the 24-year-old government official.