Safe and sound

6th October 2007 at 01:00

A multiracial group of Hackney kids get down to the work of making theatre, music, videos, photographic images and desktop publishing all with the same message: sex and drugs are serious matters and you need to know how to protect yourself. But the best part is, they're communicating this message to each other, to their youth clubs and to their schoolmates.

"A Pack of Three" is a very different kind of HIVAids programme. It is aimed at those who work with young people in schools and youth clubs. It is a practical guide to enabling young people to work through issues of relationships and protection using preformance and visual arts.

Along with three videos, the pack contains an audio cassette, a laminated HIVAids quiz and, most importantly, a "simple guide to interactive working with young people using arts-based techniques" written by project facilitator Graham Downes.

Peer education is not just a trendy buzzword. As Cultural Partnerships, the east London-based organisation that has developed this project points out, it reaches those young people that more conventional teaching has failed. In this project, young people speak to their counterparts in language that is relevant to them, using the nuances of slang and body language that cut through so many barriers.

The Pounds 250,000 project was commmissioned by the European Commission in 1993 to be used by teachers, youth workers, social workers and health promotion and arts workers throughout Europe. The materials have been produced in French, German and Italian as well as in English. The programme aims to set up an interactive environment in which young people work through issues on their own terms, with guidance, and then produce something that communicates the messages that they wish to convey in their own cultural and artistic language.

One of the strongest points to come out of the three videos is that peer education gets across hard information to even those young people who, in the words of the presenter, "don't relate well to traditional learning methods but have the absolute human right to learn the truth".

In the three videos, viewers are guided through the drama workshop process towards the final stage, a presentation to their year group. We see how the process is as important as the product, how the drama is used to explore issues like blame and prejudice, misinformation, negotating safer sex and a woman's right to insist on condoms. Improvisations are the catalyst for discussion and if one thing is clear to the viewing professional, it is that their role is to be non-judgmental.

It is only through their taking the position of neutral facilitator that young people will open up and become engaged at the level necessary to explore, discuss and create something different.

A Pack of Three (Pounds 116 inc) can be ordered from Cultural Partnerships, 90 De Beauvoir Road, London N1 4EN (0171 254 8217)

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