Young people in Africa are proving to be a powerful force for change, ChildFund Australia CEO Nigel Spence said ahead of the launch of the United Nations International Year of Youth on 12 August.
The latest UNAIDS report shows young Africans are turning the tide against HIV and AIDS, with HIV prevalence falling among young people in 16 of the 21 countries most affected by the disease. Young people are also tackling other major issues affecting youth in their communities, from domestic violence to drug and alcohol abuse, through initiatives such as peer education, youth advocacy and youth representation in decision-making.
Leading the charge are young women like 16-year-old Cynthia, who has been participating in ChildFund Australia’s HIV and AIDS program in Kenya. Cynthia was devastated after losing both her parents to AIDS-related illnesses but now educates and supports other young people in her community.
“Even if my parents died of HIV and AIDS, I can still teach my family members and the community at large so that they cannot die of that disease again, they be careful,” she says. “Right now I can stand firm in front of people, even the elders, talk to them about the dangers in life, the dangers of HIV and AIDS, talk to my fellow teenagers and girls about issues that are affecting them and how to control them.”
Empowering young people like Cynthia to speak out about issues affecting their lives has been transformational in the communities where ChildFund Australia works. It is also the theme of the International Year of Youth: Dialogue and Mutual Understanding.
ChildFund Australia CEO Nigel Spence says: “Our programs are focused on educating and supporting young people to give them the confidence to speak up and be active members of their communities. Once they find their voice, we see the most inspiring outcomes.”
Misozi, a 21-year-old youth advocate from Zambia, says she and her peers have successfully campaigned on issues such as child abuse, child prostitution, underage drinking and medical fees. She says: “As a youth advocate, my role is to see to it that information is being disseminated to the people out there – my fellow peers, the community and other people that are responsible to influence change in policies and other issues that affect us as young people.”
The International Year of Youth will be launched at the United Nations headquarters in New York on International Youth Day (12 August). The event is an opportunity for the international community to demonstrate its commitment to young people.
In addition to the launch event, there will be celebrations all over the world, which will highlight opportunities and challenges for youth in different regions and countries.
Learn more about ChildFund Australia’s work with young Africans at www.childfund.org.au/africa