On Tuesday, members of the youth coalition began reaching out to their national delegations, advocating on behalf of their [img_assist|nid=215|title=|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=75|height=100]peers using the training they acquired in a manner that was both articulate and authoritative.
I was able to sit in on a meeting between Ambassador Sealy with Carla and Dion, two Tobagonian youth activists, at the Trinidad and Tobago Permanent Mission to the UN. I was amazed at both the amount of time provided by the ambassador for both of them to explain the situation on the ground, to advocate a comprehensive ABCDEF policy for education and the reduction of stigma, and then the ambassador's own pledge to get the two in touch with their UNGASS delegation.
While discussing the state of adolescent sexuality, the ambassador remarked at his surprise upon learning of the growing rates of HIV infection and teen pregnancy:
"Sex was for adults during my generation," he said.
"Just look at the number of pregnant girls leaving high school!" Dion replied, calling for action that was less driven by Tobagonian Christian belief systems, and more by pragmatic and proven comprehensive education policies which, while stating the importance and full benefits of abstinence, also provided thorough information through the message: Abstain, Be Faithful, use Condoms, Do get tested, Educate yourself, and Free yourself from drugs and alcohol.
Carla, a youthful but experienced health practitioner in Tobago, spoke of the fear of stigma on the small island. "People don't think that there's confidentiality, so they don't get tested out of shame," she said. Ambassador Sealy, for whom it appeared much of this information was new, was a diligent, active participant in the conversation, far more so than the legislative aides I have encountered during lobbying trips to Capitol Hill. If only US representatives were half as responsive to the needs of their young constituents. If the members of the Trinidad & Tobago delegation are similarly constructive in Dion and Carla's future discussions with them, youth may hope to see a turn-around in the Carribbean, with evidence-based education replacing the Abstinence-only preaching which has proven largely ineffective since its inception.