High Grade for Caribbean youth television drama

In Jamaica last year, UNODC, UNDP and UNESCO jointly produced High Grade, a television drama about the difficulties faced by teenagers who grow up in tough inner-city communities where drugs, crime and HIV are widespread.

The main character, Taj, is hard-working and conscientious. He is in his final year of high school and dreams about going to university and becoming an engineer. His mother encourages him to study hard and get high grades. In his spare time, Taj volunteers at a local youth centre.

However, when his mother, who raised him as a single parent, dies in a drug-related shooting, he finds it difficult to cope. He gets involved in drug dealing, a bad choice that impacts negatively on his schoolwork and his relationship with his otherwise supportive girlfriend Taneisha.

In this scene, Taj has just learned of his mother's death

Taneisha, who spends some of her after-school time teaching hairdressing, also faces problems since one of the girls in her class has been diagnosed HIV-positive. The girl is scared that the stigma will be too much to bear, but Taneisha and Taj talk to their peers and explain that HIV cannot be transmitted through everyday activities and that they should support friends who are infected.

In the end, Taj manages to get out of dealing drugs before it's too late. He also gets back on track with his schoolwork, with help from his mentor. The final scene is of Taj receiving a scholarship to study engineering at university. His dream has come true through tough choices and hard work.

UNODC's Kemal Kurspahic says that High Grade captures the inspiring story of a young man who, in spite of dismal odds, manages to improve his life. "The drama highlights the importance of positive influences in young people's lives from the community at large: family, peers, school, church."

The programme has been broadcast on a number of television channels across the Caribbean. Executive producer Angela Patterson, of the Creative Production and Training Centre in Kingston, says the drama has struck a chord with teenagers.

"Young people in Jamaica are very difficult to attract," she says, "They are so busy doing other things: playing with video games, going to parties or just hanging out on the corner with friends. But High Grade held their attention. It connected, and that is in itself quite an achievement."

After the premiere of High Grade in Kingston last year, an expert panel discussion highlighted the importance of community support for youth-at-risk. The experts praised the programme, calling it a "must-see" for audiences across the region.

The United Nations agencies involved in the production followed up on its success by putting together a brochure with discussion points for debates to accompany the drama's presentation throughout the Caribbean.