This is incredible. In this room are leading youth HIV activists from 20 or so countries in both the Global North and South as well as a wide variety of organizations. Tsutomo, a peer educator from Japan, Keesha, a national organizer from Jamaica, Amr, Middle East Coordinator for the Global Youth Coalition on HIV/AIDS from Egypt…collectively we represent every region of the world and every sector of HIV mobilization. I’ll be blogging in particular with Tabris, a soft-spoken Peruvian youth educator, and Tsholofelo, a young Botswanan activist whose bright skirts and tanktops are bringing some much-needed color to this gathering of suits. Our collective knowledge and social capital is massive, the energy is palpable, and the curiousity levels are high. It’s going to be hard to remain on-task with UNGASS preparation with 60 young, attractive adults in one room.
The goals that we have set are expansive and ambitious. We’re simultaneously trying to build a lasting network, increase skill sets, brainstorm ideas, create a common youth agenda to present to the UNGASS delegation, acquire friendships, discover best practices, learn why we’re all here working on this particular issue, and—in between all of that—become the global voice for young people on AIDS.
So far, we’ve had a wide array of workshops and presentations, from representatives from the World Health Organization, UNICEF, and the International Women’s Health Coalition. Most important of all, Peter Piot, the Executive Director of UNAIDS, stopped by in the morning for a half-hour blitz of questions. After describing a lot of the constraints and limitations understandably faced by UN bureaucracies, he asked us to provide him with a handful of specific points for him to take away from the meeting.
It’s definitely a huge opportunity: perhaps the first of its kind, as well as a tremendous challenge. For the first time in this historic fight, youth have the direct ear of the executive director of the organization designed to lead the world’s response to HIV, inarguably one of the most important people working in the field today. It’s going to be tough for 60 youth, coming from widely varying backgrounds, to find consensus on just a handful of the most critical issues we want Doctor Piot to really bring home to UNAIDS. I am sure that we’ll make our voices heard loudly and clearly; whether or not the official delegations will be listening or not remains to be seen. It’s our task to make sure that they do. So many lives and so many voices are standing behind us, if not literally, then most certainly in spirit.