amfAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research

Youth Advocates Graduate with Important New Knowledge and Skills

TREAT Asia’s Youth ACATA—Asia Community for AIDS Treatment and Advocacy—program aims to build the capacity of young people living with HIV, especially those who have grown up with the disease, to become advocates on HIV and related issues affecting youth. At a final workshop this past June in Bangkok, the first Youth ACATA class completed its two-year leadership training program.

The class comprised eight young people living with HIV from Cambodia, Indonesia, Thailand, and Vietnam, all between the ages of 17 and 23 when enrolled into Youth ACATA. The program included workshops, site visits, conferences, in-country English course support, and a small grants program, and was supported by the ViiV Healthcare Positive Action for Adolescents Program.

 acata 1
Members of Youth ACATA class 1 

In addition to strengthening participants’ understanding of HIV science and research, the program also provided the opportunity to discuss and learn about human rights, sexual and reproductive health rights, and gender diversity; explore critical psychosocial issues that impact the well-being of HIV-positive youth; and design and implement small advocacy projects in participants’ home countries.

“The Youth ACATA program has increased my knowledge of HIV infection and ARV medicines, as well as my skill in public speaking,” said Nopparuch Muenkaew, a participant from Thailand and one of the founding members of the Thai Network of Positive Youth (TNY+) that was formed earlier this year. “I have learned hands-on the process for managing project proposals and I’ve gained experience in working with foreigners. I’ve met new friends in other countries and shared experiences with them.”

“I gained a lot of knowledge about HIV and AIDS, related tools and materials, working in groups, and exploring good ideas from other places, to help me share my knowledge with other people in my country,” said a participant from Cambodia. “I'm excited to have been involved in the Youth ACATA program.”

acata 2 
TREAT Asia Consultant Jennifer Ho leading Youth ACATA class discussion

A key component involved networking with regional and global representatives from various UN agencies, leading HIV pediatricians and researchers, and community advocates. These experiences presented a unique platform for participants to voice the needs of HIV-positive children and youth and to apply their advocacy skills. Another highlight was a site visit to New Hope for Cambodian Children, a TREAT Asia partner in Cambodia that provides comprehensive medical, housing, and education support to about 300 children living with HIV. “It was emotional and empowering to meet other children with life experiences similar to my own,” said a participant from Vietnam.

“The Youth ACATA program has increased my knowledge of HIV infection and ARV medicines, as well as my skill in public speaking.”

“Youth ACATA provided me with leadership training that enabled me to serve in my current role as National Coordinator of Fokus Muda, an advocacy group for young people from key populations in Indonesia,” said participant Sepi Maulana Ardiansyah. “Now I feel like I am part of the Youth ACATA family. The program is very unique and I hope I can adopt the concept at the national level.”

The final workshop for the first class also saw the inauguration of Youth ACATA class two, with their meetings overlapping so that graduates and newcomers could share experiences, knowledge, and perspectives on their futures. The new group includes representatives from Malaysia, India, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Taiwan, who will regularly meet and collaborate over the next two years.

While saying good-bye to each other was bittersweet for the Youth ACATA graduates, TREAT Asia will seek to support their ongoing growth and development. TREAT Asia Director and pediatrician Dr. Annette Sohn shared, “We are so pleased for them and the individual and collective progress they have made. Whether they choose to be public HIV advocates or seek other ways to contribute to their communities, we thank them for being willing to represent young people living with HIV in the Asia-Pacific.”