|© UNICEF video|
|A performance in the streets of Bam, southeastern Iran, brings HIV messages to at-risk populations.|
By Bahareh Yeganehfar
BAM, Iran, 21 June 2006 – “You idiot!” yells the old man, rushing towards the tent to pull a young man out. “If you used the same needle my son uses for drugs you now probably carry the disease,” he roars.
The thin young man’s clothes are covered in dust and his face is grimy and scarred. He stumbles into the crowd that has formed around him.
“I won’t let you go like that,” he shouts at the old man, jumping towards him and trying to hug him. ”Now, you will have the disease as well!” The people standing around jump back as he runs towards them.
“Sorry,” the old man replies calmly. ”AIDS is not transmitted by hugging or touching.”
This is a salient message for many people in Bam, an oasis town in southeastern Iran. It takes several minutes for the crowd taking in the spectacle to realize that they’re watching actors performing in a street play.
Addressing sensitive issues
The UNICEF-supported street theatre initiative was organized by the Family Planning Association (FPA) of Iran to educate young people on the dangers of drugs and HIV/AIDS. It is part of a community-based HIV prevention and adolescent-friendly services project. So far, 15 such performances have taken place.
|© UNICEF Iran/2006/Eeles|
|Actors prepare for a street theatre performance in Bam, Iran.|
“The plays have been very popular,” says Dr. Alireza Tajlili of the FPA. “People keep asking me when the next performance will be and why there hasn’t been one in their area.”
Dr. Tajlili explains that addressing sensitive issues through street theatre has proven to have long-lasting effects, particularly in smaller communities. “Street theatre is closer to people’s lives. People feel that something real is happening,” he adds.
Still struggling with loss
Located close to the border with Afghanistan, Bam lies on one of the main drug routes to Europe. Many of the town’s inhabitants are addicts, and since the earthquake in 2003 that destroyed most buildings and took more than 30,000 lives here, the situation has worsened.
As people continue to struggle with their loss and grief, they must also cope with the challenges of high unemployment. Rates of injecting drug use are reportedly on the rise, creating a situation in which HIV can quickly spread.
“Drugs are a real issue in Bam,” says Yousef Bagheri, a construction worker who has travelled from the north of Iran to find work.
To help combat the problems associated with injecting drugs, UNICEF and FPA have also started a peer education project targeting high-risk youth. Adolescent volunteers – boys and girls – share knowledge about HIV prevention with their peers through face-to-face encounters.
Prevention advice from peers
In a local mosque in Baravat, a village near Bam, a group of young boys sits in a semi-circle. One of them is 22-year-old Ali Esmaili, a friendly peer educator who uses group activities to make the sessions interactive and engaging.
“When people get information about the dangers of HIV/AIDS from a friend their own age, they are more likely to accept it,” he says. “It’s better than getting advice from adults.”
The peer educators have been trained by FPA, which has designed board games and brochures with HIV/AIDS prevention messages as well.
As dusk sets in, the street performance described above comes to an end. The crowd slowly scatters, laughing, chatting and discussing the information they have just learned.
”It was so cool,” says Ali, 14. ”Now I know that AIDS is a disease you can get through sharing needles or blood but not through shaking hands or sharing a toothbrush.”