Guest blog: Common experiences of youth in cross-cultural prevention settings

Ian Macdonald, a PSHE specialist and a consultant for Mentor-ADEPIS, recently delivered alcohol and drug education sessions to groups of young people visiting the UK from Egypt. Here, Ian reflects on the experience and what he learned about the common factors that impact education and prevention across different cultural settings.

24 August 2016 | Education

Ian Macdonald is a PSHE and healthy policy specialist who has been working with Mentor as a consultant in order to support UK educators to deliver effective, evidence-based alcohol and drug education to young people. Ian recently led two sessions with groups of young people visiting the UK from Egypt, and reflects on his experience below.

To learn more about Ian’s work, check out his website:

It can be easy to forget the international aspects of evidence-based practice in child health promotion, especially when we get immersed in national policy and media stories surrounding young people and drug use. So it was great to have the recent opportunity to deliver some drug and alcohol education sessions for Mentor UK to young people visiting the UK from Egypt.

I knew from planning correspondence with the youth group workers that there was a need for knowledge within the group; their visit offered the opportunity to discuss these issues in a neutral environment. Importantly, I found that the youth workers were willing and able to do follow up work with the group – not only to reinforce key points to and offer further space for discussion, but also to clarify any misunderstanding. That reassured the ‘best practice’ part of me.

I went into the session with a bit of apprehension – not around the content I had planned for the sessions, but more around potential language, cultural and religious barriers. We know from experience that effective delivery relies not only on the activities an educator uses, but also the extent to which rapport can be built, all impacting on how the material is received by a group. Language and cultural barriers could therefore fudge this process, bringing out anxiety about causing more harm than good. But I had faith in my own ability and the evidence-based approaches I had selected, so went in feeling fairly confident.

I chose to emphasise the interactive nature of activities rather than too much discussion – so was armed with plans for body maps, drug triangles and traffic lights.

As it turned out, the younger age group went further than I hoped with their alcohol body maps. A simple activity, it brought out a depth of conversation I normally only hope for in a PRU or targeted group. Regardless of my own misguided expectation of language and religion barriers, the group were thirsty for knowledge and reflected on the same questions, myths and worries as their UK counterparts. Why did I really think it would be any different?

It is worth noting though that, similar to schools with limited PSHE provision, the group’s current knowledge focused on long term effects rather than shorter term, immediate risks.

So how would the older group match up? Again, the starter activity was the trusty body map – this time including tobacco, cocaine and cannabis. Again, they went to town, thinking beyond the long term cancer and COPD risks, and discussing the impact of intoxication on decision making and risk taking. Interestingly, they were fascinated to hear different perspectives on use of e-cigarettes.

Some were thinking of their peers and potential risks around passive smoking and using uncertified liquids. This is where I was also able to gain some valuable cultural insight with the crossover into shisha use, and its role in social interaction. Others were more concerned with parental smoking and whether e-cigarettes were viable and less risky alternatives. Having held a keen eye over the changing debate on e-cigarettes in this country, it was refreshing to hear from young people interested in discussing the pros and cons of them.

Recent resources produced by Mentor-ADEPIS can help schools planning to cover these issues in the classroom, and take advantage of the curiosity surrounding these devices to develop effective arguments and decision making skills in their pupils.