Yearning youths of ICAAP

Le Nguyen - CNS
A female Interpol officer–wannabe and a former male sex worker. They hug and admire each other for their sharing and their strength. Just one of many inspiring moments from the youth preconference that took two days before the opening of 11th International Congress on AIDS in Asia and the Pacific (11th ICAAP).

'Youth Leader's Solidarity for Tangible HIV Responses' provided an open and strategic platform for young people from around the region to join forces for actions "beyond recommendations", that address their most pressing HIV and human rights issues. What they achieved in this one-day meeting surpassed the organizers’ expectations, thanks to remarkable demonstration of solidarity, ownership and leadership.

The meeting opened with rousing art. As live music played throughout, participants introduced their own personal stories through drawings. Showing a picture and telling her story, Alischa Ross from Australia received love and sympathy from others for her family loss. And from two corners of the room, an Interpol–wannabe and a former sex worker exchange drawings as gifts of admiration.

Penny Kaweewongprasert, one of moderators from Thailand, warned about the dangerous misconception that young people are not that relevant to HIV, rendering their voices silent in the fight. A sharing from India about the lack of sex education surprised everyone: Not only do parents rarely talk to their children about sex, but schools are not educating on comprehensive sex education.

But of course data shows that young people are at the centre of the HIV epidemic, accounting for 40% of new infections globally. And regionally, up to 1.3 million youths in Asia-Pacific are living with the virus.

“The meaningful participation of young people must mean practical engagement in all steps,” added Tung Bui, a moderator from Viet Nam. “We need senior leaders to appreciate us more in the way of nurturing our leadership. We are young but we have enthusiasm and capacity. Together we can end AIDS in Asia-Pacific.”

Le Nguyen, Citizen News Service - CNS
November 2013

Note: This article was first published in 11th ICAAP INSIGHT, the official daily conference newspaper of 11th International Congress on AIDS in Asia and the Pacific (11th ICAAP) in Bangkok, Thailand. This newspaper was managed by Inis Communication and CNS.