“They always say that young people are the leaders of tomorrow. But we want space there now, in order to be represented you have to have someone there to speak about your issues,” says 22 year-old Hannah Adoyo Ondiek of World Youth Alliance Kenya at the 2010 AIDS conference.
Asked about her first impressions about the conference, Hannah said “it wasn’t what I expected…All the meetings I’m attending even if it’s on faith or on what young people think – it’s about sex, sex workers, and drug users, and providing needles and condoms. I thought in the panels they didn’t have good representation [of the issues]”.
Something wrong with this picture
During the session “Is this the end of AIDS diplomacy”, the Netherlands HIV/AIDS Ambassador – Marijke Wijnroks provocatively stated that if she is the youngest person here, at age 48, there is something wrong with this picture. She asserts the needs for more young people on the podium and space for them to speak.
There is a gap
Apart from the protestors who charged the stage and left abruptly, Hannah and 25 year-old Marie-Caroline Leroux of World Youth Alliance Europe were one of the few people under 30 attending this session. When Hannah asked the panel of 6 HIV/AIDS Ambassadors “How and when [to have young people becoming leaders], no one really answered me”. She continued to say that if the youngest person is 48, they don’t know what she is going through right now. “There’s a gap, and we aren’t being represented enough as young people.”
Acces to power
Both Hannah and Marie-Caroline voiced two separate experiences when it comes to access to power. In Marie-Caroline’s situation, good governance and transparency already exist. She has direct access to leaders at the European parliament. In her words, “I won’t be an ambassador right tomorrow, because I’m too young, but it’s part of the career process”.
While Hannah’s experience is different. “We voted a young person, someone who was a former comedian [into power in her constituency]. He got beaten up, went to hospital,” and his votes were stolen and another person became the leader. So in her case, even if you get voted in, it’s not so clear whether you’ll become a leader. “Young people try to, but then they are brought down, so there’s a gap. I really don’t know how we can change it.”
A seat at the table
“I want a seat at the table, I don’t want to just photocopy” was a statement raised by another young person, Rachel Arnii of Indonesia, during the opening ceremony of the AIDS conference.
When Hannah’s was asked what her experience was more like “seat at the table or photocopy”, she replied candidly. “I guess the photocopy part, getting and carrying coffee” is part of being an intern. However, “through the World Youth Alliance, we do projects. And we go to the UN. We represent young people. We’re not just photocopy people or coffee people.”
Marie-Caroline agrees with Hannah’s experiences. She adds “ to get a real job to develop your talents and your skills, it’s really tough. Sometimes too often we’re put on photocopies.”
Show us how to fish
In Hannah’s last words she adds: “Put us at the table – YES. Young people can be responsible. Young people can change. People who take drugs don’t have to be only given needles. You can’t just give us needles. Will you give us needles forever? What’s that saying “give a man fish, he’ll come back to you. Show him how to fish… They need to show us how to fish…. How to change and give us guidance cause we need them as the older generation. Not to keep giving us fish, fish, and fish…”
Marie-Caroline jumps in, “our hope is to tell them what we need. We just know what the reality is…” So instead of giving young people just fish, maybe we can start asking them what they really want to eat.