Youth In Action - UNICEF Jamaica and Partners Organise National Youth and HIV Forum
Music, drama and lots of “edutainment” were the features of “Youth in Action” a national forum focusing on youth and HIV, organised by UNICEF Jamaica and its partners on November 26, 2004 at the Jamaica Conference Centre in Kingston.
More than 500 young people from across the island participated in the event which aimed at highlighting the work of young people in Jamaica in HIV/AIDS prevention and management efforts and at fostering greater youth involvement in these efforts. In and out of school adolescents between the ages of 10 and 19 years were targeted as participants.
As a youth oriented event, the forum had no speeches or formal presentations, but relayed messages about Communication about Sex and Sexuality, Gender and HIV and HIV Transmission through music, dance, dramatic presentations, interactive discussions and personal testimonies from young persons affected by HIV.
The day’s activities were guided by two young emcees whose vibrant personalities and energetic down-to-earth styles held the interest of the young participants throughout the day.
“The format is really what appeals to young people and this should make it clear for those persons who have not gotten that message!” one guidance counsellor stated.
There was a question and answer segment with key policy makers from the Ministries of Health and Education, the National AIDS Committee and the National Centre for Youth Development. Young people were not afraid to throw out tough questions to the adults. They asked about a number of issues which directly affected them including the provision of more effective sex education in schools, the provision of condoms by guidance counsellors, measures to address violence against children and the need for cheaper anti-retroviral drugs for persons infected with HIV.
The high point of the day was two personal testimonies given by Jason, an eighteen year old male living with HIV and Kerril, a young woman who had taken care of her HIV positive father until his death.
Both young persons shared experiences that were very similar, as both had faced stigma and discrimination, social and economic pressures and thoughts of suicide when the challenges of living with HIV/AIDS seemed too much to bear.
“I want to tell you as young people that sex is not everything. Make sure you stay in school and finish school because I did not” Jason told the young audience.
Statistics from the Ministry of Health indicate that almost 10 percent of all reported AIDS cases in the island are among persons 19 years old or younger.
His story of early sexual initiation, unprotected sex and HIV infection illustrated the risks facing many young Jamaicans today. Statistics from the Ministry of Health indicate that almost 10 percent of all reported AIDS cases in the island are among persons 19 years old or younger. A recent reproductive health survey also indicated that more than 50 percent of boys between 15 and 19 years old reported not using a condom during first sexual intercourse.
Kerril was one of the estimated 10,000 to 20,000 children who lost one or both parents to AIDS, according to a 2002 Rapid Assessment of Orphans and Other Children Made Vulnerable by HIV/AIDS in Jamaica. She is also the founder of a youth arm of her local AIDS association, as her experience with her father has led her to become an articulate and passionate youth activist.
The work of her organisation and others which have mobilised young people to work in HIV/AIDS prevention and management efforts were highlighted at the forum in the hope that many participants will follow their lead.
The day closed with presentation of prizes to students who participated in the Lessons for Life project poster competition by officials from the Education Ministry and international reggae artist and Chair of Artistes Against AIDS, Tony Rebel. The singer performed the “Protect, Prepare”, an HIV prevention song developed by the group, targeting young people, to the delight of the participants who sang along and danced with Rebel, and who left charged with information and energy – to take action.