“Change is happening, and young people are leading the way!”
Early this October (4-6th), Audrey Nosenga, Fabien Ndikuriyo, Kossy Umeh and Tinashe Rufurwadzo from Y+ joined over 350 HIV activists and multidisciplinary experts working with adolescents affected and living with HIV at the International Workshop on HIV and Adolescence in Nairobi, Kenya.
The third edition of the conference was made possible by the support from ViiV Healthcare, Johnson & Johnson, Mylan, Frontline AIDS and Aidsfonds.
At the conference, we learnt and jointly shared experiences with other young people from across the globe on how we as budding stakeholders in the HIV field can optimize care of adolescents living with HIV.
What stood out for us was the high numbers of youth in attendance as compared to the previous two editions of the conference. This was an excellent improvement following the active lobbying by the youth reference group last year to have an increased youth participation.
Spotlight on young people leading the change
Since 2017, Y+ has been providing small grants to YPLHIV country networks to implement specific programs and activities that aim to improve the quality of life of YPLHIV in their diversity. The small grants have allowed organizations and networks which are being led by YPLHIV to strengthen their operational capacity, implement advocacy initiatives on specific priority issues and build the capacity of emerging young leaders through mentorship programs.
Reseau National des Jeunes vivant avec le vih/sida (RNJ+) and Zimbabwe Young Positive (ZY+) have been receiving small grants from Y+, and they had the opportunity to share their experiences through the game-changing youth-led initiatives at the workshop.
RNJ+ Burundi: A safe space for young people
RNJ+ Board Chair, Fabien Ndikuriyo gave a presentation on how the network in Bujumbura has been creating a conducive environment for young key population and creating demand for HIV Testing Services. The RNJ+ Youth Centre was established in May 2014 as a safe and welcoming space that young people could meet to access SRHR and HIV information, counselling and services.
Since its opening, the youth centre has served over 55,000 young people who are of the age range of 10-24 years. The youth centre provides HIV/SRHR services such as counselling, health talks, HIV testing, are young from key populations.
“Young people have the capability to deliver services; there is a need to create a conducive environment where young people, including young key populations can access services without being judged. Young people prefer an environment where they can feel free to express themselves.” – Fabien Ndikuriyo
We are grateful and thank Georgina Caswell, the Head of Programmes from Global Network of People Living with HIV (GNP+) for helping us with translating Fabien’s presentation from French to English.
Zimbabwe Young Positive Voices: Strengthening youth advocacy skills
Audrey Nosenga from Zimbabwe Young Positives shared with conference delegates on how she has been strengthening the leadership and advocacy skills of 100 young female peer supporters who are responsible for 826 mentees in Zimbabwe through the READY to Lead project. The peer supporters facilitate safe spaces, hear issues that are affecting them, and take those issues to district health officials. The programme focuses on the power of adolescent girls and young women to become effective leaders in the community and to influence key HIV and SRHR policies and budgets. As a result, young women are now mentors and role models for adolescent girls.
Young people are leading the way!
Y+ Board member from West and Central Africa Kossy Umeh gave a presentation after the official opening of the conference by Dr Nduku Kilonzo from National Aids and Control Council Kenya (NASCOP). In her opening address, Dr Nduku stated that: “It is imperative to place young people at the centre of programmes and they should be engaged in all science-related initiatives.”
Kossy rocked the stage with a trendy sling bag, cordless headphones. His engaging and informative presentation received a round of applause as he used interactive catchy slides that engaged the conference delegates. He cast the spotlight on various young people who are openly living with HIV and have done exceedingly well in multiple spaces who he referred to as the Gretas in the HIV response.
It was lovely seeing pictures of Yana Panfilova, Bakita Kasadha, Loyce Maturu, Horacio Berada and Cedric Nininahazwe They are all amazing young trailblazers who have made tremendous contributions in the fight against HIV.
— Georgina Y Caswell (@gycaswell) October 2, 2019
Meaningful youth leadership and engagement
We also facilitated a skills-building workshop for the young people on: “Aiming High for Meaningful Youth Leadership and Engagement” during the conference. The workshop built their capacity on the “Aiming High: Accountability” Scorecard, which has principles of meaningful youth engagement which were developed by and for young people living with and most affected by HIV. It is very important for organizations working with adolescents and young people in the HIV response to hold themselves accountable.
Done and dusted! The skills training workshop on aiming high for meaningful youth engagement & leadership made programmers realize the importance of yuth engagement. Young people hv the capacity and there is need to invest in youth led programming and advocacy. #YPlusAimingHigher pic.twitter.com/9VWJPZTPWL
— Y+ Network (@Yplus_network) October 3, 2019
The conference ended on a high note with a panel on mental health. The session featured insights from Sarah Bernays, Mary Marwa, Thomas Gachie, Thomas Gachie, Cyrus Mugo, Nazarena Myenzi and Amaechi Okafor. They shared information around mental health, which is very critical, especially to adolescents and young people living with HIV.
Here are four main takeaways from this intellectually stimulating and educative conference:
1. The need to invest in youth-led programming and advocacy
Young people have the capacity to deliver. Despite the lack of adequate support, it cannot be denied that young people are leading the change in the global HIV response as peer supporters, advocates, innovators, researchers and program managers with the goal of inspiring innovation and effectiveness.
2. We echo Dr Nduku Kilonzo’s words, “If we say young people are the leader of tomorrow, what does that mean for today?”
"Having one or two empowered young people is not enough to make a change. There is need to empower hundreds of young people to make a HUGE impact!" – Missael Hotman, @YouthLEADAP_ during his presentation on Count Me In🎊🎊 #YplusAimingHigher @Yplus_network @JorjaPublishing pic.twitter.com/cJxbjZrhdC
— READY Movement (@READY_Movement) October 2, 2019
3. Scare tactics do not work. Abstinence-only campaigns do not work. When young people talk to young people, we use our language and slang to address HIV”.
4. Disclosure of HIV status is not a one-time event. Like adults, children may go through a period of anger, denial, or self-pity following disclosure of their HIV status. Once the HIV status has been disclosed to the child or adolescent, there should be monitoring and follow-up in the short- and long-term, providing support, additional information and evaluating for any adverse outcomes.