By Milinda Rajapaksha
The first time I got involved with ICAAP was when it was held in Colombo.
I still remember the hard work done by the youth forum; the blood, sweat and tears that went into organizing the workshops prior to the event and ensuring there was collaboration with all the underlying themes. We brought around 400 young volunteers from all over the country. We took forward the motivation we put into ICAAP 8 to drive many more volunteer-led initiatives: we organized the REACH Youth Conference and the National Youth Coalition on SRH and Rights in Sri Lanka was founded subsequently.
Similarly, the Bali Youth Force was established by 20-30 young activists in the region to push youth agenda before, during and after ICAAP 9. What we achieved was remarkable. Around 200 young people attended the two-day long youth forum and a large number of young people presented Oral and Poster presentations during the Conference. We organized our own Press Conference and launched a website much prior to the conference. Participation from Indonesian young people was just excellent.
To reiterate the importance of youth participation and involvement, we need to acknowledge that 40% of all new infections in this region are among young people. 95% are Young Key Affected People including Young MSM, Young PLHIV, Young TG, Young PUD, Young SW and Young Migrants. Almost 3000 people attended ICAAP 10 in Busan representing 65 countries. Given that each country brought along at least 3 young people, 195 young people should ideally have been guaranteed participation at ICAAP 10. However, the fact of the matter is that only 92 young people attended the conference; out of which a mere 30 were supported by Asia- Pacific Interagency Task team for YKAP. 10-15 of the young people were from Korea itself.
What happened to scholarship sponsorship? How many countries actually brought along young people as part of their National Teams? How many INGO’s treated youth as a priority to ensure their participation at ICAAP 10? Did any community take the initiative to ensure that 40% of participants were young in all their meetings? How many symposiums and sessions tried to integrate fair youth representation?
One reason we all went to Korea was to link-up with Korean young people. Busan youth force, which was very similar to Bali youth force, was stuck in the process because the Local Organizing Committee of ICAAP failed to appoint a Youth Coordinator. Neither did we know any youth organization to work with. I remember our search for Korean youth participants during the last ICAAP and APCRSH but none of the agencies were interested to bring Korean young people on-board, simply because they were satisfied with the assurance that ICAAP 10 was scheduled in Korea.
If we probe deeper into ICAAP 10, you will see how poor the conference was in terms of addressing youth issues, prioritizing young people, mainstreaming young people into the broader response, reflecting young people’s involvement to the broader development agenda and providing young people an equal opportunity for participation.
All in all, my main disappointment is the lack of youth participation from Korea. Frankly, many of us went to Busan to start something concrete with young people in Korea. We got only 10-15 Korean young people; who were neither prepared nor given a proper induction. Representation or opportunity for young Koreans in various sessions was almost zero. No-one had bothered to organize a skill building session or follow-up meeting for Korean young people to plan their future activities other than what we tried as regional youth networks. I didn’t meet any young Korean person living with HIV.
However, it must be acknowledged that a few remarkable good things happened during the whole conference such as the New Generation Leadership training for YKAP, One day Youth Forum, launching of the NewGen Asia and Mentorship Programme. So now is the time to discuss further on how to build on from here and ensure that the voices of youth are not just heard, but amplified!