“I think one of the biggest problems facing the youth today is their inability to express themselves and do what they like because they are afraid of what others may think or say in response.” This was written for the most recent phase of the mtvU dance4life Photovoice Project by a secondary school student in Barbados. What is the most challenging issue facing youth? Self-expression.

The initial framing question (What does an AIDS free generation look like?) was very specific and narrowly defined. The most recent question presented more freedom to the youth. Expecting to read a handful of different issues, I was surprised to see that every photo, video, and narrative shared by the youth touched on the same topic: self-expression and peer pressure. Here are a few of the photos and narratives. These were all created by youth at a secondary school on the island.

“I think that one of the most challenging issues facing youth is the period of trying to figure out their true identity; who they really are. At this stage in life many different questions are running through a teenagers’ mind and deciding what they want to do, or more importantly, who they want to be is very confusing. This is a reoccurring, present thought constantly running through the mind often altering and affecting the decisions which they make. Teenagers want to decide who they are to become. They endeavor to become their own person; which is quite often easier said than done. What is our identity in life? The blocked out face in the form of a smudge really portrays this confusion, while enhancing it. It is quite symbolic of the confused thought processes of the teenager. Teenagers are trying to figure out how they wish themselves to be seen by the world; all a part of growing up. Who are we?”

“My picture depicts a young girl scrutinizing her face while looking into a mirror. I think that something which greatly challenges the youth daily is the issue of self-image. Many youths today are struggling to overcome the societal pressure of perfection. Society, whether it be through TV, magazines or even social media punishes you for the single greatest thing about humanity, individuality. They make one believe that without looking a certain way you are not “cool.” It creates a tainted fictitious image which causes many to feel self-conscious and even self-loathing towards themselves for not looking “a certain way” or not being so called skinny enough. This tends to make them feel worthless and they have the urge to change themselves to fit into the mould in which society created which is an impossible ideal to reach. I think that one of the ways in which one can solve this issue is to be at peace with themselves and to be most importantly proud of your body.”

“There are many challenging issues facing the youth of our generation but the one which I believe is most common is ACCEPTANCE. The youth of today are paralyzed with the yearning to be accepted by peers, family and leaders. Each person with a different opinion of whom or what they should be. It is therefore with conviction that we, the youths, need to recognize that imperfections are a condition of our very existence. We all need to love, appreciate and accept ourselves for who we are in order to carve our future.”

The issues of self-expression and peer pressure were identified as the root of most all other issues facing youth. Whether it was drugs, alcohol, or sex, all of the youth agreed that the only real problem is pressure. The youth describe this pressure as constant and ever present, all the while they are “trying to figure out their true identity; who they really are.” Bringing this back to dance4life and sexual health, how does this pressure impact youth decision making when exploring sexuality? Future questions for the Photovoice project will explore barriers to achieving positive sexual health, and the influence of music, dance, and art on sexual health education. After a few more rounds of Photovoice we will be collaborating with local soca musician, Rupee, with the hopes of using music, photos, videos, and written narratives to create community outreach documentaries and performances.

Photovoice and participatory action research have been very well received in Barbados and the Caribbean. We have been asked to implement a Photovoice project with another secondary school on the island, we are hoping to collaborate with PEPFAR to implement a Photovoice project in St. Lucia with a focus on the LGBTQ community, we are possibly setting up a Photovoice collaboration with the local domestic violence shelter in Barbados, and dance4life International is even considering the idea of a global Photovoice project with one youth representative from each of the 28 participating countries!

Switching over to the dance4life program….we are currently working at 8 different schools and are in the skills4life stage of the program. The skills4life stage covers different modules that have been created by blending the dance4life curriculum with the local Health and Family Life Education program in Barbados. The past two weeks we have been going through the HIV module with students at each school. Questions are constantly flowing from the students as we try to get through all of the material (which can be difficult because there is so much cover). Hoping to increase the effectiveness of this particular module, we created a blog for the secondary school students to visit. This blog covers most all of the information we go over in the HIV module, and also allows students to post follow up questions to any of the statements already posted.

And finally, if any of you remember back to my first post when I described the dance4life program as a whole, you’d remember that we should have had our big celebration event the Saturday of World AIDS Day. We had to shift things around a bit, and now the event is scheduled for March. More to come on that in the next few weeks!

The Empire Theater – a sneak peek of posts to come…

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