LAPC report by Lydia GUTERMAN
“I will do my best and I know what’s best for me but I need your help.”- youth harm reduction activist, Lebannon
In this youth-led special session, four youth panelists from Lebannon, Zambia, USA, and Ghana, and an Austrian moderator tackled how to implement the principle ‘Nothing about us without us’ from a youth perspective. Panelists spoke of the lack of access to youth-appropriate harm reduction services for young people who use drugs, called for the repeal of criminal laws for drug use and demanded community-based treatment alternatives.
The session was punctuated by short silent acts of political theater by young actors, demonstrating how youth feel trapped by a system not designed for them and how high-level leaders won’t listen to their needs.
The Zambian panelist told the audience: ‘Youth are not the leaders of tomorrow. We are the leaders today.’ Youth demanded an end to being used to implement programs they weren’t involved in creating and to being exploited as cheap labor and volunteers. They called for mentorship from adult leaders and promised a partnership with established leaders not an attempt to overthrow them. And they demanded inclusion in delegations to high-level meetings and an end to youth exploitation in sexy media campaigns such as the ‘Love Life’ campaign in South Africa that are meaningless to and not created by youth.
Youth panelists called on donors to support networks of most affected young people to keep them from being silenced. They also called on donors to respect the decision-making procedures and governance structures of youth-led organizations, to ensure their sustainability with multi-year grants, and to address any problems with youth-led organization grantees openly and transparently instead of through cooptation and ultimatums.
Youth also recognized the need for accountability within the youth movement. If the youth movement is not participatory and inclusive itself it is also part of the problem.
Finally, panelists reminded the audience that all young people at the conference are accountable to the young people who can’t be here who don’t have access to these conferences and events.
Youth report by Onikepe Oluwadamilola OWOLABI
Youth session summary
Youth speak out on sustainable response to HIV/AIDS.
This was an extremely interactive session featuring 5 youth panelists, and a largely youth audience with a good number of adult delegates. Short presentations on human rights, youth leadership and participation, sustainable funding and accountability & responsibility were given by the panelists who drew on their diverse experiences and those of their peers in different organizations.
An animated discussion ensued allowing the audience to express their opinions on the discussed topics, and yielding very concrete conclusions. These included: how it is our role to ensure we are non discriminatory in our work and involve the very constituencies we stand for in decision making, so that we are actually really representing them. How we must be critical in evaluating our organizational strengths and weaknesses as we seek funding from donors and to seek for capacity building where we are deficient. We also spoke clearly on how if we seek accountability from adult leaders, we also must strive to be accountable and transparent in all our dealings and to have proper monitoring and evaluation of our protocols so we can work more effectively.
Certain needs to be put in place by adult leaders to ensure a sustainable response were also identified including: the provision of capacity building for youths by institutions and systems, the integration of youth into every level or organizations from volunteering (which is available)to being relevant parts of the policy making process, the provision of continual financial support and funds for youth led initiatives and the recognition of the fact that indeed we are leaders today and not the perpetual tomorrow we hear because “today was yesterdays tomorrow”.
An interesting question led us to identify the roles of Youth organizations two sided: working with our community to make a difference and using lessons learned to advocate for better policies and programs to ensure a change in our world. Balancing these two roles are what will keep us from becoming AIDS industry bureaucrats as it ensures there is real communication of the needs of our grass root communities by us in our advocacy to policy makers and funders.
Onikepe Oluwadamilola OWOLABI