China

China’s first AIDS Youth Ambassadors make history at the Great Wall

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF 2006/China/Li Mingfang
China’s first AIDS Ambassador, actor Pu Cunxin, makes a pledge to “learn, share and care” with new Youth Ambassadors during a ceremony at the Great Wall.

By Charles Rycroft

BEIJING, China, 12 April 2006 – In the shadow of China’s historic Great Wall, UNICEF and the China National Committee for the Care of Children made some more history last weekend with the launch of a network of 100 AIDS Youth Ambassadors.

In a ceremony held outside Beijing, actor Pu Cunxin, China’s first AIDS Ambassador, led 50 of the newly appointed Youth Ambassadors in a pledge to “learn, share and care” about HIV/AIDS. The ambassadors – all between the ages of 12 and 24 – promised to support the UNITE FOR CHILDREN  UNITE AGAINST AIDS global campaign by learning 10 key facts about HIV/AIDS, sharing that information with friends and the community, and caring for children and families affected by the disease.

A force for change

Attending the launch event were representatives of government, United Nations and civil society partners in the global campaign, as well as over 300 children.

UNICEF’s Representative in China, Christian Voumard, opened the ceremony by explaining how young people could become a force for change. This was especially true, he said, in a country where nearly 20 per cent of the world’s 10- to 24-year-olds live.

“If they could learn the 10 facts on AIDS, share the facts with their friends and take action to decrease stigma and discrimination, the whole world could benefit,” said Mr. Voumard. “That’s why today we are making sure young people are included as part of this campaign.”

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF 2006/China/Li Mingfang
A children's band plays at the inaugural event for the Youth Ambassadors, who come from six provinces across China.

Firsthand experience

The new Youth Ambassadors come from six provinces and were selected by their communities. All have already shown their commitment by creating and disseminating information about AIDS in their schools and communities, and supporting HIV-affected children and families.

One Youth Ambassador who works as a nurse in a Beijing hospital spoke about using her spare time to help ensure that people living with HIV and AIDS in rural areas regularly receive their medicines. Other ambassadors’ contributions include setting up a website and training peer educators on AIDS issues.

Some of the Youth Ambassadors, like 13-year-old Xiao Dan, have experienced firsthand the discrimination that can come with AIDS. When her mother became sick with the disease, Xiao Dan had to leave the city and move in with her grandfather.

“People in the village looked down on me,” she recalled. “No children played with me, and neighbours said all kinds of bad things about my mother.” 

Ambassador Juan Juan, 17, spoke of losing her mother to AIDS two years ago. Her father and sister are now living with HIV, and the family is subject to the stigma that arises from a lack of knowledge about HIV/AIDS.

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF 2006/China/Li Mingfang
A plaque commemorating the launch of the Youth Ambassadors initiative is unveiled at the ceremony.

“People around us don’t know much about AIDS,” said Juan Juan. “AIDS is not what people think. You can’t get it just by eating with or talking to someone who is infected.”

Need for greater awareness

Mr. Pu and Hong Kong Committee for UNICEF Ambassador Gigi Leung both referred to the importance of the “learn, share and care” message to help young people raise awareness and thereby address the problem of discrimination – an issue recognized by Chinese leaders.

AIDS awareness among children and young people in China remains low. A recent study found that 50 per cent of a sample of 2,500 young people between the ages of 15 and 20 could not name one way to protect themselves from HIV. Around half the young people in the same study believed that HIV could be transmitted by sharing chopsticks.

China’s new Youth Ambassadors have committed themselves to work for greater awareness and empower their peers with knowledge about HIV prevention.

Sabine Dolan contributed to this story from New York.


 

 

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12 April 2006:
UNICEF correspondent Kun Li reports on China’s launch of a new network of 100 AIDS Youth Ambassadors.

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12 April 2006:
Youth Ambassador Xiao Dan talks about her experiences living with AIDS in China.

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12 April 2006: Youth Ambassador Xiao Dan talks about her experiences living with AIDS in China.

12 April 2006: Youth Ambassador Juan Juan talks about her experiences taking care of family members living with AIDS.

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