Helping vulnerable youth through the living arts

Resilience Research Centre competes in Grand Challenges Canada

- November 3, 2011

A graphic from the Resilience Research Centre's video illustrates how the Cambodia Living Arts project was successful.
A graphic from the Resilience Research Centre's video illustrates how the Cambodia Living Arts project was successful.

Over 215 million youth worldwide are involved in dangerous income-generating activities like prostitution and street violence that cause long-term physical and mental harm.
But a group of researchers at Dalhousie’s Resilience Research Centre are trying to change that statistic by providing an alternative direction for youth to take through singing, dancing, and designing.

Linda Liebenberg and Michael Ungar, co-directors of the centre, have recently applied for the Grand Challenges Canada - Canadian Rising Stars in Global Health Award, and are hoping to re-create a program called “Cambodian Living Arts,” a project started out of Cambodia that gives communities the opportunity to divert vulnerable youth away from dangerous activities. Their proposal video and written application describe how the youth at risk are putting themselves in danger just to earn a living and how introducing them to the arts can help redirect their paths.

“We’ve seen the success of Cambodia Living Arts (CLA) and we want other areas of the world to be able to re-create it through a virtual tool kit,” explains Dr. Liebenberg, who’s also an adjunct professor in the School of Social Work. “We want to create this virtual tool kit that models the approach of CLA so communities around the world can facilitate the same type of activities and programs that keep youth engaged through the arts.”

Supporting communities

After three years of researching vulnerable youth in Cape Town, Dr. Liebenberg emigrated from South Africa to Halifax and joined Michael Ungar at the Resilience Research Centre, where they have researched youth resilience together for the past eight years. The grant, worth $100,000 over 18 months with a possibility of renewal, would go toward development of the tool kit website using graphic design work of youth in Cambodia and piloting the program in four international sites.

“Instead of trying to reinvent the wheel, communities will be able to use the tool kit to establish their own ‘Youth Living Arts,’” explains Dr. Liebenberg. “In Cambodia, youth are taught traditional music and dance, but art forms would vary for each community. We’ll encourage communities to explore their local traditions and incorporate that into their own program.”

Dr. Liebenberg encourages the Dal community to check out the video and vote as the number of votes plays a role in the application process.

“It’s like the old saying goes, ‘Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.’ By creating these virtual tool kits, we’re empowering youth and their communities.”


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