The Beat of Bajan Youth

Hello! Katherine Cloutier here, one of the new grantees for the mtvU Fulbright 2012-2013 cycle. I am down here in Barbados, living on the edge of the Caribbean Sea for this coming year. During my time I will be working with dance4life Barbados to explore a music and dance based education program in the school system. My research will contribute to my graduate program in Ecological-Community Psychology, and will explore issues related to Bajan youth, sexual health, sexuality, gender, youth rights, development, and policy making. My co-grantees are out in Kosovo, Botswana, and India and we are going to give all the mtvU Fulbright blog readers an experience well worth their time. For this first post I am going to take the space to give an overview of the research action project I am working on.

dance4life is an international youth movement that aims to inspire, education, activate, and celebrate youth around issues of sexual health and sexuality. Currently, dance4life is in 28 different countries, Barbados is the first one in the Caribbean. Each dance4life country program is partnered with a local organization (the national concept owner of the program), and in Barbados this is Associates for International Development, AID Inc.

dance4life Barbados is now working in 8 different secondary schools on the island. The first step of the dance4life program is the Heart Connection Tour. This step aims to inspire the youth to get engaged with the dance4life program and serves as an introduction to the dance4life team. We will be putting on a Heart Connection Tour workshop at each of the participating schools, and have already completed three! This step uses peer education, music, and dance to disseminate information about sexual health. dance4life embraces music and dance throughout the program as it encourages young people to be intentionally in control of their bodies, while serving as a universal language for youth to connect globally regardless of language and geographic separation. The photos in this post are all from the Heart Connection Tour workshops thus far at Ellerslie Secondary School and Garrison Secondary School.

The next step of the program includes classroom sessions at each school; the skllls4life portion. This stage utilizes peer education to discuss sexual health, sexuality, leadership, and youth issues. On December 1, World AIDS Day, we will be inviting all of the youth to the dance4life Big Event. Every two years each country hosts an event to celebrate the youth who have completed the program, or who are currently in the program. These youth, agents4change, celebrate locally, and are connecting globally via satellite to all dance4life youth across the world. Together they will do the dance4life drill (taught during the Heart Connection Tour) to dance in solidarity for one cause, to stop the spread of HIV and AIDS.

Following skills4life is the Activate stage when youth are encouraged to take what they have learned in the classroom, and turn it into an action project. I will be working with a group of dance4life youth from Harrison College (one of the participating schools), running a Photovoice and Videovoice project.

Photovoice is a method created by two researchers at the University of Michigan (Wang & Burris, 1994), and is an action research method aimed to enhance the voice of community members and transform the research process by involving community members as co-investigators. This method is built on an empowerment and social justice framework, and acknowledges research participants as experts on their own lives and the implications of policy on their communities. In Photovoice projects, community members use cameras to capture images in their communities that reflect pressing issues that impact their everyday lives. Each photograph is accompanied by a written narrative, and together they are used to guide discussions about community strengths, challenges, and history. These photos and narratives are NOT pictures for art sake, rather they are then used as tools to create social change and influence policy. For this project we will be taking Photovoice to a new level by incorporating video. Photovoice projects culminate into community level action, such as a public exhibit of the photos, or the creation of tools such as digital stories.

The youth at Harrison College will be given cameras to document youth issues in their communities and will be guided by framing questions to which they will respond through photos, videos, and narratives. These will later be used to create community action performances carried out by the youth.

dance4life Barbados collaborates with PEPFAR, The United States President’s Plan for Emergency AIDS Relief (http://www.pepfar.gov/). PEPFAR has requested that the first framing question presented to the Harrison College youth be: What does an AIDS free generation look like? Furthermore, we have been invited to present the photos and narratives to the US Ambassador, Larry L. Palmer, during the week of World AIDS Day. The youth will be given the opportunity to share their ideas for an AIDS free generation directly to the Ambassador, and their photos and narratives will be on permanent display in the US Embassy. I think everyone on the team agrees that this is a pretty great start to using the photos and videos to influence change.

In addition to the Photovoice project I will be conducting interviews with policy makers, as well as leaders in the LGBTQ community in Barbados. My research aims to explore the overall climate related to youth voice, sexuality, and youth engagement in national development and policy making. Furthermore, the project will explore the implications of engaging youth in their communities through the use of music, dance, and activism.

There will be more to come on the progress of this community-based action research project, as well as the ecological-community psychology theories that are guiding the overall goals. Within the next few posts you can expect to see the Harrison College youth sporting their mtvU t-shirts at their US Embassy presentation.

Till next post…

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