Sunday, August 3, 2008

CCF Youth Speak at Symposium on AIDS

By Sarah A. Roush, program associate for Christian Children's Fund

On Aug. 1-2, I participated in the “Children and AIDS: Action Now, Action How” Symposium being held in Mexico City prior to the International AIDS Conference. The Symposium was attended by 530 delegates and 170 presenters from more than 70 countries. Attendees included program managers and staff, HIV advocates, policymakers and government officials, academics and researchers. The event provided a forum for discussion between individuals working on issues of children and AIDS at all levels, with the shared goal of pushing the agenda to improve programs for young people.

CCF was represented at the panel “Including Children and Youth in Community-Level Advocacy”. William Fleming (HIV/AIDS Program Specialist) moderated and two CCF youth spoke about their experiences and leadership on HIV youth programs in their communities.

Carmen is 17, and is a CCF sponsored youth living in Honduras. Juan is 21 and lives in Mexico. After their presentation and the crowds of individuals eager to speak with them had drifted away, I sat down with Carmen and Juan to discuss their work with CCF.

How did you decide to get involved in youth HIV work?
Juan: When I was in high school, I found out that two of my relatives were infected with HIV. I started doing research on it and was inspired to start doing work for prevention.
Carmen: My friends and I knew that the rate of HIV infected children in Honduras was very high, and we wanted to help. After doing research, we formed a group of CCF-sponsored youth to do prevention work. Now we’ve expanded to also include youth that aren’t affiliated with CCF.

Tell me about an achievement in your work that you’re proudest of.
Juan: My most outstanding achievement was advocating with youth Human Rights Promoters for Women’s Rights on International Women’s Day. We presented musical theater during festivals on the topic of Gender Based Violence. This effort reached communities as far as two hours away –- it was a very big achievement to spread our message so far.
Carmen: Among our youth group in Honduras, there used to be discrimination over income, religion, etc… but since we’ve been working for a common cause, we’ve been talking more and we’re one team. This is a great achievement.

Have you experienced a change in adults’ opinions of youth in your communities since you’ve started this work?
Carmen: Yes! Because they see the work that we’re doing, adults know youth aren’t just focused on irrelevant things. Through our meetings and representation, they know we youth are working on important issues.
Juan: At first adults in my community thought I was lazy –- that I was just hanging around, not studying… since I’ve started this work, they’ve become very supportive.
Carmen: Yes, parents prevented youth from participating in our training before but now they encourage their children to join.

How have you personally changed through your work? What are your future goals?
Carmen: I’m a much more open and sociable person now –- I’m a very secure person. My dream is to keep working with children. I want to be a teacher and not just teach math or grammar, but also values and how to be proactive on issues like HIV.
Juan: I am a shy person, and before I had trouble speaking in front of groups. Now I know I can contribute more because I have gained confidence through my work; I can speak publicly, I am here at an international conference. I also have the satisfaction of having made a difference with the youth in my country. I am inspired to keep working on these issues.

What have you gained from your participation in this symposium?
Carmen: I learned a lot, and was very proud to present at an international conference and receive such good comments. I was also excited because I’d never been to Mexico before!
Juan: I learned so much about global efforts working with youth on HIV, it has been overwhelming. I made a lot of contacts and the opportunity to be invited was an honor.

What else can Non-Governmental Organizations do to support youth in efforts like yours?
Carmen: Information access, economic resources, and other methodologies for working with young people.
Juan: She stole everything I was going to say! In addition to these things, providing spaces for youth to come together and express themselves.

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