“Use a condom…everytime” advises Wyclef Jean in French on a broadcast of Amour & Vie. The Benin radio program airs weekly on national radio, and takes “des poses musicales” or “music breaks” to play dance-party-inducing African pop beats between discussions of sexual health and family planning. Mandy McAnally reports on how this radio program helps break the taboo of talking about safe sex among youth in the western African country of Benin.

It’s Wednesday, and the Amour & Vie weekly radio program—Love & Life in English—is starting in 15 minutes. Patricia Montcho and her co-host, Yann Kounde, look over their scripts and run through some lines. African pop music streams proudly through the crowded radio station. Amidst the chaos, Patricia seems relaxed, prepared and professional. She walks into the sound booth.

The intro jingle starts to play, and Patricia kicks off the show. “Hey out there, glad you could join us for this week’s show. Today we’re talking about abstinence and why or why not have you, as a young person, abstained from sex.”

Two years ago, Patricia joined Amour & Vie, a youth program organized by l’Association Béninoise de Marketing Social et la communication pour la santé (ABMS), Population Services International’s (PSI) affiliate in Benin. She works voluntarily as a freelancer for the program and host for the weekly radio show. She also studies Linguistics and Public Health at the University of Abomey-Calavi in Cotonou.

ABMS launched the sixth Amour & Vie campaign thanks to the Impact program—a five-year $18-million program funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). The Impact program is designed to improve youth behaviours associated with HIV/ AIDS and family planning.

Through Amour & Vie, Beninese youth work with ABMS and the Peace Corps to produce this popular weekly radio show and bimonthly magazines designed to address young peoples’ questions and concerns regarding sexual health, HIV/AIDS and teen pregnancy, and to encourage them to adopt safer, responsible sexual behaviours. Peace Corps volunteers also organize meetings to talk about issues featured in the magazines.

When Patricia joined the Amour & Vie team, she was looking for answers about sex, because she couldn’t talk to her parents. Today, she feels more confident in the choices she makes. She and her co-hosts put a lot of work into the weekly radio show, which has a cult following among youth in Cotonou. “The show is really important to me. We want to make sure to get the correct information out to our listeners.”

The Amour & Vie program is driven by the understanding that peer education is an influential force in determining youth’s decision-making patterns and ensuring the continuation of the activities without ABMS. After being a part of this program, Patricia tells me, “I feel like an ambassador for love and life in the community.”

Mandy McAnally is the Associate Manager of Corporate Marketing, Communications & Advocacy for Population Services International (PSI).

Portions of this article originally appeared in 2012 in Impact, the magazine of PSI. Reproduced with permission. www.psi.org. All rights reserved.

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