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Philadelphia's FIGHT Organization Teaching HIV Prevention with Music, Dance

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By Ayana Jones, Special to the NNPA from The Philadelphia Tribune –

Philadelphia FIGHT’s Youth Health Empowerment Project is using dance as a way to educate young people about HIV.

Y-HEP is the first to partner with dance4life, a Netherlands-based program aimed at empowering young people around HIV.

The organization joined Victoria’s Secret angel Doutzen Kroes at a press conference to launch dance4life-USA.

“dance4life is effective because it breaks down the inhibitions to learning, helps young people remember the importance of HIV prevention, and is fun,” Kroes said during the press conference held at City Hall.

Kroes encouraged parents to talk to their children about safe sex and condom use.

“We must break the silence and we cannot be afraid to talk to our kids about sex, using condoms, and to answer their questions,” she said.

Y-HEP will take the dance4life program to students at various school and youth organizations throughout Philadelphia where they will encourage young people to take responsibility for their health and decision-making. dance4life Philadelphia has joined 28 countries in offering the global program that provides young people with the skills to join the fight against HIV/AIDS.

“What we have found with dance4life — more than any other program designed to help reach young people transition into adolescence — is that this has been the most successful,” said Jane Shull, executive director, Philadelphia FIGHT.

AIDS Activities Coordinating Office Executive Director Jane Baker hailed the dance4life initiative and said it’s another tool in the arsenal to fight the growing rates of sexually transmitted diseases amongst Philadelphia’s youth.

Last April, Philadelphia’s Department of Health launched a campaign to help combat the rise in STDs amid Philadelphia youth. During that launch, Health Commissioner Donald F. Schwarz said more than 19,000 cases of chlamydia were reported in 2010, with approximately 45 percent of those cases occurring in youths between the ages of 10 and 19 years, and 33 percent occurring in young adults ages 20 to 24 years. He also noted that 47 percent of the youth who were diagnosed with HIV at the city’s STD clinic had a prior history of gonorrhea, chlamydia or syphilis.

“Right now we have a public health emergency. This is a crisis. So anything you can do to bring these rates down, to make some impact on the rise of sexually transmitted diseases among young people in Philadelphia, you have to do it. This couldn’t be more timely,” said Baker.

dance4life International Founder Eveline Aendekerk says the organization’s goal is to facilitate a global youth movement of one million agents of change by 2014.

The push to expand the movement comes at a time when half of the new HIV infections are occurring in young people under 25 according to U.N. AIDS.

During the press conference, members of dance4life Philadelphia’s tour team chanted, “Take responsibility for life, let your voice be heard,” while showing off hip dance moves.

The dance4life program has four components, including a heart connection tour that encourages participation through music, drumming, dancing and education; skills4life, a workshop program where participants learn about HIV; and act4life, which encourages involvement in a volunteer project. The fourth component includes celebrate4life, a biannual celebration that is held on the Saturday before World AIDS Day. During the celebration, dance4life participants are connected via satellite where they dance together.

Over the coming months, Y-HEP will work to recruit students and student clubs to participate in the dance4life program, and will stage dance4life interventions in area schools.

Y-HEP is a community-based health and leadership development program for Philadelphia youth.

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