Mpowerment is a program that started out in the nineties in the United States to respond to the growing rates of new HIV infections specifically among young gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men (MSM). The program aims at educating young MSM on sexual health, prevention and community building values. Mpowerment is centered on young (18-29) MSM volunteers who collectively decide how the program would run and how it will educate peers and project name, logo, identity and activities; which is why each Mpowerment program has its own name and identity. In 2016 the program had been set up over 200 times and had been adapted to South Africa, Peru and Lebanon. The adaptation process lead a group of YMSM in ethnographic research on the issues the community faces in Lebanon which later were analyzed into a series of themes the program would focus on in Beirut. A Team of experts from AFE MENA and from the program creators met together intensively to adapt the program to the Lebanese culture. Soon after, the community center was open and the coordinators organized the first volunteer meeting which decided on “Tayf” as the center identity, symbolizing the diversity of the community members it aims to reach.
Tayf now is centered on 4 main elements:
- The community center
Open weekly in the afternoon, Tayf center is a comfortable space where YMSM and their friends can come to spend time and hang out with each other. The center is equipped with screening material, board games, books and an assortment of drinks and snacks. Tayf serves as a space where everyone from the LGBTQ community and friends can come and spend their time, however the prevention activities are tailored for MSM needs as it is the highest population at risk of HIV.
- The core group
This is by far one of the most important elements of Tayf. The core group is a group of volunteers who meet on a weekly basis at Tayf. It is called a core group because the volunteers are the ones who decide which activities are to take place at Tayf and which interventions to plan, they also help with outreach material and collectively work on team and community building ideas.
- The outreach
Another element of Tayf is the Outreach. Information the volunteers learn and discover are encouraged to be shared with the community for a healthier and stronger community. The outreach can be peer to peer, where members who attend wellbeing sessions at Tayf also learn how to share this information in their day to day interaction with their peers. The planned Outreach, however, is a quarterly activity where members decide on prevention messages that they share through organized outreach in places where the community hangs out. These Outreach events usually involve a theme and fun stickers, condoms and lube to encourage the community on healthier safer sex.
- Below the Belt (BTB)
While the name sometimes surprises people, it is the name of the health awareness session organized monthly at Tayf. The name is fun and daring enough to stimulate curiosity and allows people to dissociate information from taboo. The session usually involves around 1015 young MSM, who meet and discuss a series of scenarios, situations and sexual health information including condoms, PEP and PREP, HIV and STI testing and sharing valuable information with your friends.