XVII International AIDS Conference – Making a Positive Impact

We have been receiving continued updates from our World Youth Alliance advocates down in Mexico City at the XVII International AIDS Conference. Here is one from Gabrielle Ferri, one of our WYA members from Canada who has attended our Emerging Leaders Conference and brings extensive AIDS education and WYA advocacy training with her to Mexico. Here is her first post.

This week has been filled with first time experiences for me, which could mean many things at an AIDS conference. To avoid any misconceptions, let me elaborate. My “firsts” for this week include a first time in Mexico, and also my first time bartering with a taxi cab driver, eating papaya, buying from street vendors, ordering food in Spanish, and getting acupuncture. Most importantly however, this is my first time representing the World Youth Alliance and advocating at an international conference. The experience has been somewhat overwhelming at times. I’ve suddenly realized the vast complexity of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. With 29,000 people voicing their opinions and agendas, it is easy to lose sight of the real problem and to join in the political fanfare, Brazilian dancing, and the condom craze. When you raise real concerns and propose solutions in the sessions, people seem to do a double-take. “Did she really just say delaying sex?” People almost seem to give you “the benefit of the doubt” when you use this sort of language. “She didn’t really mean to say that.”

Today, for example, I was in a skills building session called “Working WITH Youth: Strategies for Effectively Engaging Youth Most at Risk.” The young woman running the session brought up peer education as an avenue to reduce risk for young drug users. I added my thoughts on the subject for the audience. I volunteer in Canada with the Children’s Aid Society and added that in my experience, being a positive role model who isn’t using drugs and is delaying sex has had an enormous impact on the young girls I’ve worked with who are from broken homes and are surrounded by older peers engaged in dangerous activities. Peoples’ faces seemed a little blank. “Positive role model? She’s positive for HIV? No wait, she said delaying sex and not using drugs. What?” They all smile and nod their heads then change the subject as quickly as possible. “So, back to harm reduction!” This isn’t to say that WYA hasn’t met with any good reception. We depleted our large supply of our Esperanza, “Women Deserve Better,” with minimal fatalities. Only one of the bright pink sheets was quickly thrown to the floor and from the other hundred sheets handed out, several curious recipients engaged us in conversations where we found common ground. Although my first experiences have been slightly overwhelming, all of them have been greatly rewarding, even the acupuncture, which, to my surprise and relief, greatly reduced the symptoms of my sinus cold.

Gabrielle Ferri, 20 – World Youth Alliance, Canada