The 2011 Mali Youth Summit on HIV: Empowering the Leaders of Today
By Yubing Xia
From 15th to 17th April, 150 young leaders from across the globe came together for a three-day working meeting at the 2011 Youth Summit in Bamako, Mali. The Summit was organized by UNAIDS under the patronage of Mali’s President Amadou Toumani Touré. Four Chinese representatives from diverse backgrounds travelled to Mali to participate in the Summit. The Youth Summit ended with endorsement of a Call to Action, to be presented at the High Level Meeting on AIDS in June. This Call to Action is available online at http://www.whatabouthiv.org
The aim of the Summit was to empower young leaders from communities around the world to play a stronger role in national, regional and global responses to HIV. Representatives aged under 25, including young people living with HIV, used the summit to explore strategies for bringing about a prevention revolution for HIV and building responses that are energetic, sustainable and youth-driven. UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibé spoke to participants at the opening ceremony: ‘You are the most powerful engine we have for transformation and progress’ he said. “Do not let anyone tell you that you are the leaders of tomorrow. You are the leaders of today.’
Team China: Participation and Contribution
Representing China at the Mali Youth Summit were four Chinese youth leaders, Hu Baowen, Bi Zijia, Li Rong and Li Maizi. These four representatives brought their experiences from different areas of the HIV response and made important contributions to the Summit meeting.
Hu Baowen, Program Officer and Coordinator at Yunnan Daytop Drug Abuse Treatment and Rehabilitation Centre, was the only Chinese member of the Summit’s 12-person steering committee. Seven days in Mali preparing for the Summit familiarized Hu with the ins and outs of an international level HIV conference. ‘The Summit provides grassroots NGOs like us with an open platform for exchanging information, as well as brand new networking resources.’ Hu said, ‘I had a great opportunity to share my experience and learn from others.’
Bi Zijia, a journalist working for China’s Xinhua News Agency, brought a strong understanding of advocacy and the media to the summit. Bi Zijia has previously worked with UNAIDS as an intern, and tries to promote accurate reporting around HIV in her daily work. During the Summit, Bi co-facilitated the seminar, ‘How to use traditional media to promote the Call to Action globally’ together with CCTV news anchor James Chau and Editor Dwain Lucktung from the UK.
‘Those 150 young leaders come from all sectors, and most of them had zero experience in journalism, so I imagined it would be quite a challenge for us to train them to master the basic skills needed for working with traditional media,’ said Bi. ‘The 2-hour course went more smoothly than I expected, and I was proud of how quickly they were able to get to grips with professional mass media communication skills and technologies.’
Li Rong, a masters student focussing on child and adolescent health at China’s prestigious Peking University School of Public Health had just completed a 9-month UNAIDS Special Youth Program fellowship in January. The first Chinese person to win a place on the SYP so far, Li gained a lot from training in Geneva and working at the UNAIDS China Office. His knowledge was further advanced in Mali. ‘The Summit placed great emphasis on the upcoming High Level Meeting, due to take place in June 2011, and urged us to seize this important opportunity to advocate for change.’ Li Rong said.
Li Rong was particularly interested in the workshops on how to use information technology including social media for advocacy. ‘After we return home, during the 60 days leading up to the Summit and the High Level Meeting, we participants are supposed to use these skills to inspire and guide more young people to get involved in efforts to prevent HIV.’ Li added, ‘I’m already eager to get started.’
Li Maizi, an undergraduate student at Xi’an’s Chang’an University and founder of the Xi’an Lesbian Network, was mostly impressed by the young representatives from around the globe, and especially those who from the least-developed countries, who nevertheless continue to pursue their dreams of leading movements to prevent HIV and protect the human rights of under-represented groups. ‘After this Summit, not only did I realize what a critical role we young people play in the global AIDS response, I also fully understood that different countries have very different situations,’ said Li Maizi. ‘In China, we young people should make things change step by step from the grassroots level and try to expand our influence on the government and business.’
‘I will share with my team members and volunteers the lesson that empowering young people is of vital importance for protecting the human rights of vulnerable populations, such as LGBT,’ Li Maizi added.
A Call to Action: Bringing Action to China
The most remarkable achievement of the Mali Youth Summit was the Call to Action made jointly by all participating representatives. This Call to Action will be presented at the High Level Meeting in New York on 8th-10th June. Member states will witness the determination of young leaders and hear their voices conveyed at the beginning of the Call to Action – ‘We are not making recommendations; these are demands.’
All Chinese participants benefited a great deal from the process of discussing and drafting the Call to Action. They realized that although China has made significant progress, as highlighted by UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibé in his speech, there is still much work to do, and young people need to be centrally involved.
‘The discussions were intense, full of ideas and perspectives,’ said Li Maizi. ‘I felt that many topics were worth spending more time discussing. For example, whether more young representatives from key at risk populations, such as sex workers, MSM and PWIDs, should be getting involved.’
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