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Youth at the Forefront to mark 24th World AIDS Day

All over Asia and the Pacific, bright young leaders are rallying their peers and petitioning their governments with much greater resolve in the global response to AIDS. 

As the international community prepared to commemorate this year's World AIDS Day on December 1st, more and more young people are  drawn to the forefront of the response as strategic partners, innovators and leaders capable of developing and implementing creative solutions in the HIV response.

Workshop participants learn through play during one of the game activities. © UNICEF/2011/Manila/Sally Beadle

The times when the Philippines HIV epidemic  has been described as ‘low’ and ‘slow’ is a thing of the past. Data released by the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) indicate that new HIV infections rose by more than 25 percent in the past 10 years. This, despite the fact that most other countries report falling or at least stabilizing new infection rates.

Additional HIV statistics on the Philippines indicate that age of first infection is decreasing; about a third of all new HIV infections occur now in young people aged 15-24. Reasons why some young people may be more likely to be exposed to HIV vary. Poverty, dysfunctional families, minimal or no school attendance makes young people vulnerable to risky behaviours, drug use and exploitation. Sometimes, peer pressure, curiosity or risk taking which is natural at their age puts them at risk of HIV. Behaviours which expose young people  to HIV risk include unprotected sex between males, being caught up in a sexually exploitative situation or trading sex for money or goods to survive, and injecting drugs. It is essential to ensure the meaningful participation of young people - especially young people from key affected populations - to voice their views of the world they live in with the challenges they face, and to strengthen them to shape the local AIDS response.

Empowering young people to become stronger advocates

Donna (not her real name), a young peer educator who traded sex for money to survive in a southern Philippines city, says she hopes to be able to counsel more of her friends and colleagues about the risks of HIV. "The current difficulty," according to Donna, "is that young sexually active girls would rather not entertain any talk about HIV and AIDS." But with widespread and high-profile information campaigns about AIDS and training of youth volunteers like her to lead HIV prevention advocacy work, she is confident that she will in time be able to break through that barrier.

For Jules, an established youth leader who heads a coalition called Cebuanos United Against Child Abuse, the challenge faced by young leaders like him is to be able to sift through the diverse views and opinions of their members and from these consolidate a common position to present to national leaders and lawmakers.

Recently (Nov. 13-18, 2011), Donna and Jules, alongside 32 other youth leaders from all over the Philippines, completed a five-day youth leadership training NewGen Asia Leadership Short Course. The pilot training was hosted by Council for the Welfare of Children, with support from UNICEF Philippines and Regional UNICEF, UNAIDS, UNESCO and UNFPA Offices.

Workshop participants gather in teams during one of the team-building activites. © UNICEF/2011/Manila/Sally Beadle


As one young person commented, the course does not just teach about leadership theory, but actively allows participants to practice their skills, including public speaking, facilitating focus groups and engaging stakeholders. “Doing the activities made me feel strong in the sense that I realised that I can be a good leader”, she said. Another young person added “This course has helped give me the strength and capacity to face people who hold positions, and who make decision in my province. I can now go and use the speaking skills and the argument skills to tell them what we need”.

Workshop participants organize themselves in rows to share their activity outputs. © UNICEF/2011/Manila/Sally Beadle

Brenda Vigo, Executive Director of CWC, was enthusiastic about the event and commented on the importance of developing the skills of young Filipinos in the area of HIV. “After this week, we are excited to have 34 empowered young people, ready to multiply and spread their skills for a very worthy cause. We have heard about how these young people are planning to use what they have learned and we are looking forward to seeing the results” she said.

As the country marked World AIDS Day this year, UN agencies, partners and youth advocates celebrated the significant progress that people are making around the world towards the goals promoted by UNAIDS – zero new infections, zero AIDS related deaths and zero stigma. The data sends a clear message. There is a need to take action in the Philippines and there is a need to work with people, including young people who are most affected as strategic partners in the response.

The piloting of NewGen Asia in the Philippines was hosted by the Council for the Welfare of Children, with funding and technical support from UNICEF Philippines. NewGen is an initiative of the Asia Pacific Interagency Task Team on HIV and Young Key Affected Populations, with YouthLEAD (7 Sisters) and the Youth Research Centre, University of Melbourne as key development and implementation partners. The course development phase was funded by UNAIDS, UNICEF, UNESCO and UNFPA. Partners will continue to support NewGen leaders in the Philippines to apply their leadership skills in their communities. In 2012, the course will be rolled out in other countries throughout the region, with an intensive process of monitoring and evaluation.

 

 

 
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