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Baalbek is the administrative headquarters of the Bekaa valley that runs parallel to Lebanon’s border with Syria. It is a small city with a history of more than 5000 years. Two thousand years ago, the magnificent sanctuary of Baalbek celebrated the syncretism between Baal, the God of semitic origin and Zeus-Jupiter, the Gods of Greco-Roman origin. Baalbek was also called Heliopolis, the city of the Sun. Here, we find the largest and best preserved temples of the old Roman Empire. The present population of the town is predominantly Shia muslim but there is an important Christian minority representing the most ancient uninterrupted communities of Christianity.
We visited a project in Baalbek, on sexual and reproductive health awareness amongst youth, funded by the United Nations Population Fund and implemented by the Youth Peer Education Network, an organisation that educates youth, especially adolescent girls, on the prevention of HIV/AIDS, drug abuse, and violence against women. In order to inform youth about the risks and causes of sexually transmitted infections, this project utilises innovative communication techniques like theatre, role play, games, radio and television shows. It is not easy to talk openly about sexual health in this traditional context but the project has been successful in overcoming inhibitions and stereotypes.
The Youth Peer Education Network or Y-PEER, is a global initiative pioneered by the United Nations Population Fund, spanning 48 countries across Eastern Europe, Central Asia, Africa, the Pacific, Middle East, and Latin America. In Lebanon, the Y-PEER network comprises peer educators affiliated to NGOs, youth clubs, Scouts, municipalities, private and public schools and 7 Palestinian camps.
The Y-PEER network was created to enhance awareness amongst youth on reproductive health and to build their capacities in educating their peer groups on issues around adolescent sexual health, youth rights, HIV/AIDS prevention and addressing social stigmas, substance abuse, gender equality and gender based violence, civic engagement, advocacy.
Through innovative techniques of “edutainment”, or education by entertainment, like theatre, role play, interactive media, games, movies, singing, skills and capacities are built among youth in educating their peer groups and advocating for their rights. Youth sensitize their peers through radio and television shows, conveying messages in events, producing newsletters, and handbooks with practical information, for instance on sexually transmitted infections.
Young people supported as part of this initiative are reaching out and educating thousands of Lebanese youth across the country on HIV/AIDS, STIs and reproductive health care .