Advocates for Youth Reporter

Mark, a 21 year old international development officer, music aficionado and self-indulgent writer, is positively salivating at the opportunity to serve as a Youth Web Correspondent at the UNGASS review in New York City. A veteran of Advocates for Youth’s International Youth Leadership Council, Mark has discussed the state of trans-Atlantic reproductive health policies with activists in Belgium, lobbied for responsible youth sexuality education on Capitol Hill and educated peers around his alma mater dressed as a six foot phallus named Woody. A committed believer in a multisectoral approach to combating the AIDS pandemic, he is also fully aware of the need for committed, passionate constituents to hold their respective governments and institutions accountable, and to demand full representation. He is more than happy to perform such duties. A native of Australia, he looks forward to the day that sensible, public health-based global health policies finally begin to meet the needs of his generation, and will gladly call out inefficient, pandering mass bureaucracy with little mincing of words. Marks holds a B.A. in Government and Politics from the University of Maryland and blogs using a 4th generation iBook.   

When Science and Passions Collide: Another Perspective

Mark Hiew is a reporter for the Toronto YouthForce. He can be reached at [email protected]

It seemed like business as usual at the main pressroom on Day 3 of the International AIDS Conference in Toronto. Helene Gayle, President of the International AIDS Society, had just introduced Gregg Goncalves, of the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC), when the situation rapidly changed. Gregg ceded his spot to two positive black South African women, Sipho Mthathi and another TAC representative-an unusual act in such settings. As Sipho began to speak, a dozen members of the TAC stood up together, chanting slogans and holding signs reading "Gates is not the voice of (People with AIDS)!" and "Media: Activist not 'Hollywood' Conference."

From Inclusion to Leadership

I am on my way back to Washington, rolling away from the rollicking clatter of New York City and the seat of international administration at which over the past week, dozens of brilliant young activists have made their presence felt as profoundly as possible. As didactic and occasionally enthralling as the meeting was, I can’t seem to shake the lingering sense of disappointment at the ultimately mediocre strength of the session’s results. The final political declaration to come out of the 2006 UNGASS review was a mixed bag; encouragingly, it included the strongest youth language ever seen in such a document, as well as a demand for national targets (if not specific quantitative nor global ones) and some mention of putting life before intellectual property rights through access to generic drugs.

Paragraph 26 reads: “(Therefore, we) commit to address the rising rates of HIV infection among young people to ensure an HIV-free future generation through the implementation of comprehensive, evidence-based prevention strategies, responsible sexual behaviours, including the use of condoms, evidence-and skills-based, youth specific HIV education, mass media interventions, and the provision of youth friendly health services.”

Youth Leaders Protest in General Assembly

Throughout the past three days, youth members of civil society have traveled a rollercoaster of emotional and political turbulence, as moments of exasperation and elation, gratitude and outrage flowed throughout continued civil society meetings. Following on the high hopes that many carried in from the youth summit, the present (and likely final) version of the declaration, though it includes positive language on youth—thanks in large part to the demands and pressure of youth advocacy—remains a disappointingly watered down document. Youth and civil society at large have expressed a variety of grievances towards the meeting, ranging from the impotency of institutional process through to the lack of access for civil society to actual negotiations.

Passion Pushes Power to Act at UN AIDS Meeting

After I attended a youth caucus meeting where language for a joint youth message was finalized, there was a demonstrations outside of the UN, where AIDS activists from around the world came together in concert as impassioned chants and speeches rallied out towards the towering UN building.

“BUSH is BANANAS!” shouted one chant-leader, mimicking a recent pop song, and a member of Act-Up, one of the most influential and famous grassroots political organizations in recent history.

Former Bush AIDS Czar Speaks Out Against Administration

Wednesday morning, Advocates for Youth held a press conference that was attended by youth from a collection of nations. Former Bush administration AIDS czar Scott Evertz had spoken out against the administration he used to represent. I was surprised but thoroughly impressed to find that Mr. Evertz, the first openly gay official to be chosen for the current administration, pulled no punches in speaking out against the specifics of the administration's widely lauded PEPFAR plan. He referred to the profound lack of reality employed in conservative policymakers' treatment of LGBT youth: "If you teach them abstinence only until marriage, and it is illegal for them to marry: do you expect them to remain abstinent their entire lives?" he asked.

Mr. Evertz, while coyly remarking at how Advocates as well as other NGOs used to be the "thorn in his side," said he is now able to join them in lambasting current PEPFAR policy: "People keep asking me if US AIDS Policy has been hijacked by the far right. I'm not sure that it's been entirely hijacked, but let's just say they're on the plane," he remarked.

Youth Leaders Educating Ambassadors

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.

Youth Summit: Day 2

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 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.

Reporting Live from UN: Youth Summit Connecting Leaders

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.

Reporting Live from UN: The Lines Are Drawn

[img_assist|nid=215|title=|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=75|height=100]I’m in day one of a Youth Summit at the UN Population Fund, and I’m pumped to meet the international youth delegation that’s been assembled. I’m curious as to how the summit planners are going to mobilize and equip such a disparate group for all the media and scheduling madness of any large international conference. More critically, though, I’m apprehensive and excited at discovering what exactly we’re facing in putting youth at the forefront of the UNGASS 06 agenda. It seems highly likely that the UNGASS review committee will face difficult political squabbling throughout the process with a US delegation that appears selected largely on political grounds, rather than on healthcare experience.

Youth Blogger: Mark fom Australia

It’s now only one day until I travel to New York City for the UNGASS meeting and its starting to show. I’m becoming increasingly apprehensive and nervous; the potential for real commitment and action, as well as for more continued bureaucratic wrangling, is currently hanging tenuously in the balance.
During my day job, I work for a development agency which has a lovely modern office with lots of lovely, educated, passionate mostly-Western professionals who seem to be forever coming back from Sudan or flying out to Haiti.