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The International AIDS Conference is a gathering of people working and volunteering in the field of HIV to present research, promote dialogue, collaborate and develop response strategies. The theme of AIDS 2014 was ‘Stepping up the Pace’, reflecting the need for increased momentum to prevent the spread of HIV.
I attended the conference as a volunteer with Youth Empowerment Against HIV (YEAH). I also attended the Youth Pre-Conference hosted by the Melbourne Youth Force. Together we created a Youth Action Plan, focusing on the themes of Treat, Reform, Educate and Love, that was presented to The Global Fund and the United Nations Population Fund. Please go to www.youthforce.co/#youth-action-plan to read more about our goals.
The pre-conference was an excellent opportunity to form friendships with young HIV advocates from all over the world. We participated in workshops, spoke about the value of peer sexual health education and learned from guest speakers, including Professor Sheila Dinotshe Tlou (Director of the Regional Support Team for Eastern and Southern Africa, UNAIDS) and the Honourable Michael Kirby (Justice of the High Court of Australia).
Melbourne Youth Force delegates were invited to contribute to a street art legacy project at Queen Victoria Markets. We designed stencils under the guidance of local artists Fred Fowler and Michael Fikaris then painted a mural, pictured below.
During the conference, I was privileged to deliver a workshop to Victorian high-school students about the science of HIV, the need for safe sex using barrier methods such as condoms and dental dams, the global context of HIV and the stigma that people living with HIV face.
I was also fortunate to attend symposiums and panels hosted by world leaders, young people living with HIV, sexual pleasure specialists, epidemiologists and representatives of target groups, including sex workers, men who have sex with men, and transgender people. Delegates and locals paid respects to the lives lost to AIDS-related deaths, and flight MH17, at a candlelight vigil in Federation Square. We marched though Melbourne CBD together toward an end to HIV and AIDS. We partied late into the night to raise money for Positive Living Victoria. I was inspired by the people I met at AIDS 2014, particularly those who tirelessly emphasised the need for adolescents and young people to be involved in decision making at all levels.
Despite advances in treatment, HIV-related deaths amongst adolescents increased by 50% between 2005 and 2012. The pandemic amongst young people is a crisis. HIV infection in Australia is on the rise, most prominently amongst people our age. We need to take action. We need to cast a critical eye over the information we are fed by the media. We need to speak out against discrimination, including colloquial jives about AIDS in day to day conversations. We need comprehensive sexual health education. I encourage you to visit www.redaware.org.au to learn the facts about HIV and other sexually transmitted infections. Accurate, reliable resources are available through the site’s Peer Education Hub.
Truth is I can quote shocking HIV statistics to you until my hands ache from typing but numbers alone overlook individual experiences. This is where the value of books and film lies, in the ability to tell stories and open our eyes to others’ lived realities. The novels we read and the movies we watch impact upon us in lasting, meaningful ways. Narrative connects us.
I am lucky to know people living with HIV who are willing to share their stories with me, people who are same-sex attracted or gender diverse, people of various cultures. This does not negate my love for biographies and documentaries. My love for stories has been nourished from a young age and only continues to grow.
Get in contact with your state’s AIDS Council to organise for a person living with HIV to speak at your school, university or workplace. Visit your local library for books about sexual health. I recommend the Inside a Dog reading list, made in support of RedAware and the International AIDS Conference.
Be safe. Pursue knowledge.
Agents Blog: Will Ribaux on the Joys of Groovin’ The Moo with the YEAH crew
Despite the constant threat of Victorian rain and the early start on the 3rd of May I climbed onto the bus with a group of volunteers and had an amazing time. We ran several activities to help get the public involved and set the mood. Ranging from a giant wheel of fortune wheel game with questions about safe sex, STI’s and consent to big red, the dildo we used for condom demonstrations. People attending the show couldn’t have been more eager to get involved and I’ve come away with too many stories of getting to meet and talk about sex with the best of them.
I can’t count how many times people came up to the tent confident they knew all about sex and it’s ways only to be stumped when Gonorrhoea came up on the wheel. Rather than sending them away to contemplate their shame, it was amazing to have twenty people covered in red eager to talk Gonorrhoea to death. These conversations happened all day, and every one of them was rewarding. I know I took a lot from the experiences of those who came by the tent and enjoyed giving people the chance to talk frankly about subjects that can awkward the pants off many.
The incredible energy and dedication it takes to get a bunch of young volunteers onto a bus on a freezing morning can’t be understated. It was on display all day and I’ve come away with huge respect for the volunteers going the extra mile to get the word out. From distributing the merch to running out into crowds to grab someone and get them to be a part of the sex positive conversation.
It was a huge day and I enjoyed every bit of it from the setup to the outreach in the day and joining the masses at the end of the night to see some music. Watching some of my fellow volunteers walk around with arms full of empty cans to try and get cheaper drinks I realised that I’d have happily done this all again the very next day. I guess next year will have to do but I’m already looking forward to it. I’d like to thank everyone who made it possible from the volunteers to the staff at YEAH – it was a blast and I’d absolutely recommend anyone who wants to get involved give it a go.
Agents Blog: Caitlin Hennessy on Local Leader Training
On Wednesday 9 April 2014, ten YEAH agents gathered in Melbourne for Local Leader (LL) training: two by two from Perth, Darwin, Adelaide, Brisbaneand Melbourne. Out-of-towners settled in at the Space Hotel then shared dinner with the delightful YEAH staff.
The next four days were a flurry of learning, lubrication, lyrics, leadership and love. Training took place at the Headspace/YEAH office on La Trobe Street. Local Leaders were instructed on how to represent YEAH, deliver training to new agents, facilitate workshops and field difficult questions from young people.
LL training also involved in depth refresher courses on sex, pleasure, consent, peer education, empowerment, HIV, STIs, gender and sexuality. Games, debates and interpretive dance were crucial learning aids. Session highlights were listening to guest speaker Professor Rob Moodie from the Melbourne School of Population Health share stories from his career and discussing gender with trans activist Jez Pez, founder of DUDE magazine.
Partners from each state negotiated their roles and responsibilities then co-presented a component of Agents of YEAH training to practice their new-found skills.
Every day began with a healthy breakfast (supplemented by spoonfuls of Nutella) and ended with a social outing under the guidance of locals’ wisdom. Excursions included karaoke, a (cringe-worthy) comedy show, dumplings and Fitzroy. What happens in Fitzroy stays in Fitzroy Flying home on Monday was a mixture of enthusiasm to kick-start local initiatives and sadness to bid new friends farewell.
Thank you to the staff at YEAH for hosting us and working so hard, especially to Alex Tanglao and Kaushi Kogar for being wonderful trainers.
‘Train the trainers’ was excellent. Agents, please apply for Local Leader next year! It’s the most fun you’ll have with your pants on.
To find out more information about upcoming trainings, please email email@example.com