Thursday, August 2, 2012

(Safe) Sex, Drugs and Rock and Roll: Sexual Health Education at the Gnaoua World Music Festival


Every year in June, the city of Essaouira, an old Portugese fort city on the Atlantic coast of Morocco, hosts the Gnaoua World Music Festival. During the festival, which primarily brings Gnaoua musicians from all over North Africa but also welcomes musicians from diverse musical traditions from all over the world, the town triples in size, from about 90,000 to about 300,000.



For the past four years, the Peace Corps has been collaborating with ALCS, the Moroccan HIV prevention and advocacy organization, to provide sexual health education outreach – a neglected and dire need in Morocco – and HIV testing to festival goers, primarily young sexually active Moroccan males.



This year, I had the privilege of being a co-organizer of this project. I wrote the grant application and with two other volunteers spent four months planning. Working closely with ALCS, we planned the budget, selected the Moroccan peer educators and the PCVs, developed training programs and organized the trainings, and ordered materials.

But the real work came during the festival itself. Developing and implementing a work schedule for 20 volunteers to do three jobs covering two shifts over four days, monitoring the supply of brochures and condoms for restocking, making trips to the cyber to make additional copies, overseeing record keeping, and conducting outreach ourselves, was exhausting but fulfilling work.


Working 9-10 hour days, the ALCS staff, extraordinary Moroccan student volunteers and PCVs accomplished amazing feats! We conducted outreach on sexual health and disease prevention to 2200 festival goers – in four languages, sometimes simultaneously – tested 1408 people, and found 4 positive for HIV. Although receiving such news undoubtedly constituted a monumental blow to those four, they were from that moment embraced into the support and care of the capable ALCS network.

After four months of preparation, leading up to a hectic and intense four days, the project was a success!


Like the Gnaoua musicians – an ancient pre-Islamic North African tribe whose musical tradition has been influenced by many cultures throughout Africa – we were a diverse group working among the greater diversity of the festival goers to overcome barriers and promote well-being. As we offered our message, with the pulse of the music surging in the background, I hope that it was received, not as a damper on the irrepressible impulse to enjoy life that flowed through every vein, but instead as a reaffirmation of it.



2 comments:

  1. What a great project. Would have loved to hear the music.

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  2. One fine project! Keep raising awareness on sexual health!

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