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Angola: Debate and drama teach life skills to adolescents

© UNICEF Angola/2005/Aguilar
Domingas Rita Rodriguez and others discuss the consequences of early pregnancy at the UNICEF-supported youth centre.

BENGUELA, Angola, 8 June, 2005 – On a recent Saturday morning, instead of sleeping late like many teenagers do, a group of adolescent boys and girls gathered on the outskirts of town. Tension hung in the air as a heated debate, sparked by a comment made by eighteen-year-old Domingas Rodriguez, raged inside the Benguela Youth Centre - where no topic is taboo.

“The boys in my neighbourhood get the girls pregnant and then go... [They] disappear,” she said.

The boys in the group protested.  “Well, all the boys aren’t the same,” said seventeen-year-old Djay Generoso. “I think that before going off with a girl, we have to think of the consequences and not go down that road just because the others do.”

The centre (one of four in the province, also called Benguela) is located in one of the poorest neighbourhoods in Benguela, where teen pregnancy and HIV/AIDS are serious problems for the entire community. UNICEF supports the centre, which is run by members of Caritas, an international, non-profit organization.

The girls and boys at the centre, varying in ages between 10 and 21, are learning life skills to help secure better futures. 

When the Saturday group is asked by a staff volunteer to identify ways in which an early pregnancy would affect their lives, there are immediate answers from the crowd.

© UNICEF Angola/2005/Aguilar
Group participant Djay Generoso at the UNICEF-supported youth centre.

“It keeps a girl from going back to school,” said one youth. Another said, “Becoming a father too early decreases the chances of becoming a professional.”

The centre runs many sessions and programmes designed to help youth and adolescents. Some of the sessions teach the difference between the facts and myths about HIV/AIDS, explain sexually transmitted illnesses (STIs) and how to prevent them, cover the issues surrounding alcohol use and abuse, and teach conflict resolution techniques.

These are all topics that can normally cause strong feelings and reactions.  But at the centre, staff members help moderate discussions without stifling the teens’ opportunity to speak frankly and freely with their peers.

“Our aim is to increase the knowledge that young people have of HIV/AIDS and other STIs while equipping them with the personal capacities to understand and avoid risky behaviours,” said Joao Luis Monteiro de Oliveira, the centre’s project manager.

This centre provides an important service to Angolan children and adolescents. A survey, conducted over a year ago by UNICEF in partnership with Population Services International and USAID, found that at least 43 per cent of young Angolans have sex before age 15. Nearly 70 per cent of their sexual activity is unprotected, and 90 percent of the Angolan youth are unable to name three ways of avoiding HIV.

“Before coming to the centre, I had heard of HIV/AIDS and STIs, but I didn’t always have all the right information,” said Domingas. “Here, I amuse myself immensely with some of the discussions we provoke, but at the same time I feel I become stronger and more able to make the right decisions about my body and my life.”

© UNICEF Angola/2005/Aguilar
Theatre group members dance before a performance.

Theatre and outreach activities

Teens at the centre are also using theatre as a way to illustrate the topics they talk about during the life skills programme. Theatre activities are coordinated by a youth-run organization called Twayovoka, which performs and trains other youth theatre groups at other centres of its kind.

In the last year, over 15,000 children and adolescents have visited the four centres functioning in the Benguela province. Some 500 individuals have completed the Life Skills curriculum and over 60 have been trained in theatre techniques.

Discussions with UNICEF are currently taking place to expand the Youth Centre’s activities to include much demanded vocational training in computer use and English language skills. As for the teens who visit the centre, their Saturdays are well spent in debate and discussion – sometimes heated, but always honest and helpful for the teens’ futures.

“Life skills are about helping people transform the knowledge they have into practical solutions. If we complement that with training that may open the doors to potential jobs, we will be 100 per cent sure to have a winning program,” said Joao Luis.



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