As I write, Victor from Sweden and Edford from Zambia are presenting on message building. The group, after yesterday's intensive crush of trainings and workshops, have become much more comfortable and light-hearted. Many are adorned in beige hats with "WYP?" (What's Your Position) on the front, from a youth awareness campaign which provides condoms to youth in nightclubs in Trinidad & Tobago.
I've been sitting down with folks during breaks to talk about some of their programs on the ground. Two major themes have really struck out to me:
Firstly, the passion, inspiration and intelligence of my[img_assist|nid=229|title=|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=100|height=75] generation is truly phenomenal. Looking around the room this morning, I am periodically moved to wonderment by the physical and symbolic beauty I find within the diversity of people in this room. Our skin colors, hairstyles and clothing possess a brilliant range of color and culture, and yet our voice rings out with sonorous clarity. United through our youth and vibrancy, our collective commitment to defeating this epidemic and demanding our voice is heard at this UN meeting makes us a formidable force.
Not nearly as beautiful as the variety of ethnic groups on display is the common reports back from respective home[img_assist|nid=230|title=|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=100|height=75] turfs. In brief discussions, I've been continually met with feelings of frustration, anger and exasperation at the invasion of ideology, discrimination and politics into what we see as an issue of public health. Mayindo, a peer educator and youth advocate from Nigeria, best encapsulated the general feeling when describing his emotions at receiving PEPFAR funding for peer education programs, which contains the notable requirement that only "Abstinence-Only" education be used:
PEPFAR funding "puts us in a dire corner. Sometimes I think it is even better to not receive the funds. PEPFAR has imposed its own programs on other countries, thereby undermining Nigeria's own national strategy," which includes full comprehensive sexuality education.
Facing such obstacles has never been a new challenge for [img_assist|nid=231|title=|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=100|height=75]youth activists, which returns me to my main point: the intelligence and maturity of young people. In response to this unprecedented global adversity, we bring passion, energy, and innovation. Our imaginative quality — a universal hallmark of young people, but one often decried as being unrealistic or overly ambitious — is perhaps our greatest strength.
I was thoroughly impressed by the hyper-articulate Dikitso, who discussed adding the "D" to ABC—Abstain, Be faithful, use Condoms–in an innovative peer education campaign used in Botswana. Masturbation, which appears to have been a taboo subject since time immemorial, is a rarely discussed but pragmatic method of preventing HIV transmission. Through his campaign, Dikitso and other educators organized focus group discussions around the subject of masturbation, and launched a campaign which added "D" for "Do it Yourself," to the existing ABC methodology. Using a discussion-generating road sign messaging campaign, Botswanan peer educators like Dikitso are providing knowledge in place of previous fear-based interventions.
In Wisconsin, Whitney from "Sex Outloud" organized an awareness campaign which brought out 400 community members to raise awareness concerning the Lord's Resistance Army in Uganda. In Indonesia, Nino organized a queer film festival in Jogyakarta which drew over 1000 audience members, despite facing death threats demanding the event be called off. Whilst handing out hats, Carla from Trinidad & Tobago shared their "WYP?" campaign with us, in which peer educators swept through night clubs handing out condoms, t-shirts and hats with the "What's Your Position?" message: Even when enjoying yourself, protect yourself.
It was wonderful to go around the room, hearing so much creativity and thoughtfulness from fellow youth coming up with so many solutions, hand-fitted to a broad array of cultural contexts. With such intelligent, committed young activists working around the globe to curb this preventable virus, I am filled with confidence that we can win this war and really turn the tables on HIV/AIDS.
What we really need is for unproven ideological "solutions" to be removed from international AIDS policy as much as possible. And that's what the next three days is about. After a day of intensive lobbying and messaging training, each of us are ready to meet with our national delegations to demand youth involvement and comprehensive sexuality education for our peers.