McGill Universityâ€™s Faculty of Education, with the Gendering Adolescence and AIDS Prevention Project (GAAP) of the University of Toronto; the Centre of Visual Methodologies for Social Change of UKZN, Planet You and UNESCOâ€™s Culture and HIV and AIDS division in Paris are currently developing a webtool on youth, the arts and HIV & AIDS called YAHAnet. The webtool is a vibrant and dynamic approach to addressing youth-based education and advocacy around HIV & AIDS: it will enable youth groups to showcase their projects and network with like-minded leaders of social change, sharing best practices and innovations in the field. YAHAnet is also an acknowledgment of the importance of creative expression and the media in relation to the identities of young people, particularly in the context of sexuality and HIV & AIDS.
The project itself started a year and a half ago, when the team joined up with a group of interns and graduate students to carry out an assessment of the emerging community of arts-based youth groups that work in the field for UNESCO. After studying over 300 organizations and conducting interviews with sixty of them, it became clear that the groups use many creative approaches to â€˜getting the word out,â€™ which include photography, hip hop, graffiti, story telling, radio drama, forum theatre, and music among many others. It also became evident that these groups really wanted a community forum that would help to further their work.
The concept of the webtool was officially â€˜launchedâ€™ at the Fifth World Summit on Media and Children held in Johannesburg, March 24-28, 2007. The webtool, which is currently being field tested in South Africa, Chile and Canada, offers video, audio, and image galleries where groups can share the work they have done and a searchable database of literature on how and why to use the arts for social change.
There are also several broader uses for such a webtool. One of these is the recognition on the part of many of these organizations â€“ as well as those who work as practitioners and researchers in the area of youth and HIV â€“ that there is a need for such groups to remain up-to-date on â€œthe triggerâ€ information on health and behaviour relevant to HIV & AIDS and young people, such as statistics, new findings about prevention, research and so on. As such, the webtool will also serve as a clearinghouse for this kind of information.
A second issue relates to ensuring that groups have access to relevant information about how to report, monitor, and evaluate their arts-based programs, which are all critical to ensuring a programâ€™s funding. Indeed, the assessment of arts-based initiatives is an area that is under studied â€“ and an area where the webtool could provide direction for youth organizations. Consequently, the webtool will have how-to guides that groups can customize according to their needs that will address such issues as program start-up, evaluation, and fundraising.
Finally, a webtool like YAHAnet can deepen an understanding of culture in addressing HIV and AIDS. The social networking component of this tool will support richer possibilities for the participation of youth as co-researchers in this area.
The value-added for all of the university partners is that it offers an opportunity for working in a meaningful way with local community based youth groups using the arts to address HIV and AIDS. The research team is also seeing it as a project that links up to the enthusiasm, energy and expertise of graduate and undergraduate students. For example, a number of undergraduate interns will be working on the webtool at the participating universities during the summer and fall of 2007. The webtool, www.yahanet.org will go live on October 23rd, 2007 and will be officially launched on World AIDS Day, December 1, 2007.
For further information please contact Prof. Claudia Mitchell of McGill University Claudia.firstname.lastname@example.org or send an email to the YAHAnet Project Coordinator, Lindsay Cornish (email@example.com).
YAHAnet was field tested with the Sekwanele Youth Organization on 30 March, 2007, at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. The youth were incredibly helpful in providing feedback on the test site and were enthused to see themselves on the internet - a medium with which many Sekwanele members were previously unfamiliar.