Malawian youth arts project finalist for UN SDG Action Awards

A project by Art and Global Health Centre Africa (ArtGlo) that uses arts to engage young people on issues of sexual and reproductive health rights (SRHR), HIV, and gender equality, has been selected as a finalist for the 2019 SDG Action Awards.

Explaining drawings-Kabadwa school festival
Part of the activities of Masa Youth
Dancerat Kabadwa school festival
Malawian youth arts project finalist for UN SDG Action Awards

The SDG Action Awards are an international UN initiative to recognise organisations and individuals who are advancing the global movement for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in the most transformative, impactful and innovative way. From more than 2,000 applications from 142 countries, three finalists have been selected for each of the seven categories.

MASA Youth, a finalist in the creative category, is the only Malawian initiative to reach this stage.

ArtGlo’s MASA a Youth Programme Officer, Sharon Kalima, will travel to Bonn, Germany to attend and perform at an Awards Ceremony to be held at the SDG Global Festival of Action from 2nd to 4th May 2019.

“I’m very honoured to have our project shortlisted for the UN SDG Action Awards. The project touched so many lives in the secondary schools, colleges and communities we worked in. This is very encouraging for everyone who worked on the project. I hope it will be motivation for others to use participatory arts to engage people in a fun and creative way on addressing different SDGs,” said Kalima.

Reacting to the development, UN Resident Coordinator, Maria Jose Torres, commended MASA Youth initiative for its contributions towards SDGs achievement in Malawi.

“It’s wonderful to see young Malawians using their creativity to work towards the SDGs, and to be recognised on this international platform for their achievements. Malawi, together with 192 other countries, committed to achieving the SDGs by 2030 and youth have a vital role to play in achieving this,” said Torres.

MASA: Youth started in 2017, with support from the National AIDS Commission (NAC). ArtGlo and partner Dignitas International trained 40 students from Domasi College of Education and Chancellor College in participatory art forms and technical SRHR and HIV information. They created performance pieces tackling the real-life issues and barriers their peers face, and performed them on campus.

The team went on to train 240 secondary school students in Zomba, Machinga and Phalombe districts. The college students coached the secondary school students through developing and rehearsing their own performances on the issues the students felt were most important in their communities. The students then held festivals at their schools to showcase the different performances they created, reaching around 3,700 people. After the festivals, students, teachers, administrators, and community members took part in creating school action plans to address the issues raised.

The project evaluation, conducted with Dignitas International, found that as well as significantly improving scores on Knowledge, Attitude and Practice, participants reported that the arts methods and near-peer approach helped create open dialogue and learning on taboo subjects.

“Culturally, most of these issues were hidden from us in the villages because tackling them was like swearing. There was no way you could come and discuss sexual reproductive health issues with the youth. It was like swearing, but at MASA there is no discrimination against a particular gender, or whether one’s parents are rich or not. MASA helped us to work as one,” said a New Foundation Secondary School student.

Domasi College of Education Squad Member added: “I feel like I am a real man now. At first, I thought I was a dictator to my sexual partner and I could just command her that I want to have sex with her, but I have learnt that no, the girl has a voice to be heard too. I have to respect her decisions. Decisions have to be made by both of us.”

Another student from Kabadwa Secondary School said: “They say actions speak louder than words. The idea of involving us in the art was effective. It made us more open and we could easily remember what we learnt.”

Realising that gender inequality issues often underpin sexual and reproductive health rights challenges, MASA: Youth is currently focusing on gender equality and gender-based violence issues, with support of the US Embassy in Malawi.

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