Saving lives with poetry and song

by Andre Skeete

Concerned about the plight of persons living with HIV, particularly their need for wholesome food, staff of the Barbados Government Information Service decided to do something a bit different.

While the seven-member BGIS HIV and AIDS Committee worked tirelessly to create the customary public service announcements, as well as radio and television programmes in support of the Ministry of Health’s National HIV Food Bank, they pondered what else could be done to bring more persons on board for this cause.

What could they do to capture the minds and imagination of Barbadians as they sought to educate and sensitise persons about HIV and AIDS?

The answer was Love, Poetry and Song; a charity concert which marries the creative arts and positive messages about healthy sexual choices.

The event was conceptualised by the committee to be an effective, alternative yet powerful medium of sharing important messages about HIV and AIDS and the need for persons to develop sexual responsibility.

Local artistes, through spoken word, song and dance, seek to share these relevant themes and messages with their audience.

The inaugural Love, Poetry and Song was held at the Barbados Museum and Historical Society last year and according to BGIS HIV Committee Member, Lisa Bayley, the show was a “resounding success”.

Buoyed by the positive feedback from that event, the Committee set out to make this year’s presentation even better.

“We believe that the arts could help the BGIS in spreading some of the messages we have been sharing for years. So, instead of just doing PSAs and seminars, we thought of working with the artistes – the singers, musicians and poets

— because not only young persons but all people listen to them. We also wanted the performers to ‘buy in’ and understand why the message is so important and they, in turn, sought to spread that information.

“Last year’s Love, Poetry and Song was more successful than we ever could have imagined. We packed the Barbados Museum and we had to send for more chairs. They came and people were still standing and we had to actually turn back some people. So, this year we are moving to Ilaro Court, which is a much bigger venue,” she said.

This year’s concert will be held on February 16, starting at 6 p.m., with doors opening at 5 p.m. The line-up includes spoken word artistes, Blake Broomes, DJ Simmons and Adrian Green; a dance performance from N3W Motion; and vocalists Lynelle Larix Russell, Erika Alexei, Philip 7, Simon Pipe, Hal Linton, Marisa Lindsay and Biggie Irie.

Bayley added that the show was also an opportunity for emerging local talent to take centre stage and showcase their skills.

All proceeds from Love, Poetry and Song will go to the Food Bank which provides support for persons living with HIV or AIDS by way of food items and toiletries, as well as counselling and nutritional services.

The committee member, who is also the Information Officer assigned to the Ministry of Health, explained that while Barbadians had been quite supportive of the Food Bank, the BGIS team was seeking to encourage more persons to donate on a regular basis.

“I think even though people know about the Food Bank, they tend to forget about things that don’t affect them directly. The Food Bank does really well at Christmas, but it tends to get donations on a sporadic basis throughout the year. All through the year persons are living with HIV, and they need food and assistance and that is what the Food Bank offers every day, every year,” she said.

Patrons are asked to contribute $10 or more as well as bring two non-perishable food items. The first Love, Poetry and Song raised some $5,000 and five barrels of food.

“People have really bought in to this project. This is a way for them to make a difference, to get some really good entertainment and for us at the BGIS, to push a message which the National HIV Commission is very happy for us to share, which is that ‘Safe Sex is Sexy’. It is not just about using condoms, but it is about being faithful to your partner. For young people it is not just having sex because you can, but abstaining until you find the partner who is right for you,” Bayley pointed out.

She added that all of the artistes were very supportive of the venture and not only were they excited to take part, but had also participated in a sensitisation seminar put on by the BGIS.

“The artistes have been fantastic. They participated in a workshop recently which was led by Behavioural Change Communication Specialist at the National HIV/AIDS Commission, Alexis Nurse.

She shared with them some information that is important in the message when looking at the theme ‘Safe Sex is Sexy’. We believe that once persons go on the stage at a show with this objective, they should have an understanding of why it is being held and the issues that are part of it.

“They responded really well. A lot of them thought it would just be another HIV workshop, but it turned out to be much more. They really learned a lot, shared a lot and they spoke about how they as artistes could help the Commission and the Barbados Government Information Service, in terms of getting the message out,” Bayley said.

The BGIS Officer thanked not only the performers for giving of their time and talent, but corporate Barbados for also coming onboard to help with expenses, particularly in such difficult times.

Bayley noted that the BGIS HIV Committee was also working to ensure that Love, Poetry and Song could become a mainstay on the local events calendar.

“We have a four/five year plan and it is on our agenda. How we do it may change, but it is something we want to continue because people are responding well to it,” she said.

So, Barbadians are being invited to “bring their blankets” and enjoy the performances under the stars at Ilaro Court, as the BGIS presents Love, Poetry and Song 2013.

It promises to be a special treat you wouldn’t want to miss.

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