Commonwealth Youth for Positive Living
Three Years of Promoting Behaviour Change

Guyana Chronicle
December 31, 2006

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WHEN the Commonwealth Youth for Positive Living (CYPL) was launched on September 11, 2003 by the Commonwealth Youth Programme Caribbean Centre (CYPCC), a small group of young Guyanese, who were part of the pilot, set out on a mission to educate their peers about issues of HIV/AIDS with a bias on positive living and behaviour change.

The CYPCC was mandated by Heads of Government and Youth Ministers to design intervention programmes to address the escalation of HIV infection and AIDS in the region. In response, CYPCC examined the Youth Ambassadors for Positive Living Programme (YAPL) which was started in Africa, later replicated in Asia, as a model to be used for the Caribbean.

In determining the nature of its interventions, CYPCC considered a series of issues confronting the region’s youth, among who are the majority of new cases of infection. CYPCC concluded that any intervention should correspond with what is currently happening in the field of HIV/AIDS prevention education across the Caribbean.

In May 2002, a Regional Planning Workshop, ‘Empowering Youth for Positive Living’, held in Barbados was organized by the Commonwealth Secretariat Health Department and the CYPCC, to provide a forum to discuss the establishment of the CYPL programme.

The programme was to address HIV/AIDS and its impact on the youth population of the Caribbean. The workshop enhanced the Caribbean’s response to HIV/AIDS and the possibility of each Commonwealth Caribbean member state implementing the programme.

CYPCC and The Network of Guyanese Living with HIV/AIDS (G+) joined hands to implement CYPL Guyana as a project to address behaviour change and promote positive living among those infected with and or affected by HIV/AIDS.

A total of 21 youths (12 females and 9 males) some of whom are infected with the virus were trained in elements of positive living which included: emotional intelligence, behaviour change, HIV/AID/STI and peer-counseling, during a thirteen-session workshop.

The CYPL programme is distinctive from the other training programmes because it stresses the importance of positive living and behaviour change, which are critical to reversing the spread of the HIV virus.

Positive living encompasses all aspects of human life, which includes physical health, emotional health, psychological health, social health, sexual health and reproductive health. Positive Living requires attentiveness and consistent self-examination and seeks to ensure a healthy life. It is a process, which calls for dedication and discipline.

Today, the CYPL concept is spreading to other Caribbean countries and has taken root in The Bahamas under the name Youth Ambassadors of Positive Living (YAPL).

CYPL outreach exercises
Since the official launch in September 2003, the CYPLs have been involved in community outreaches and positive living sessions in high schools in and around Georgetown.

A total, about 500 young people have benefited directly from the work of the CYPLs thus far through outreach work conducted in positive living. Many more have also benefited from the information dispensed via the radio programme and projected figures for future outreaches indicate that at least another 500 students will be reached.

In 2004, community youth leaders from the West Bank Demerara and Berbice, were brought together for specialized training in areas of HIV/AIDS and Positive Living.

They in turn returned to their communities and groups to train others, thus reinforcing the importance of training leaders who have the capacity to train others.

The CYPL Programme then took the schools, covering a total of six high schools and three technical institutes to conduct positive living sessions. These were: Alleyne’s High School, St. John’s College, Tucville Secondary, Dolphin Secondary and Carmel Community High School. The institutes were: Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) and Guyana Industrial Training Centre (GITC) and the Mercy Wings Vocational Centre.

The CYPLs did not only confine their outreaches to Georgetown, but held a training workshop entitled “Life After Testing Positive” in Corentyne, Berbice. Twenty-five persons who have committed themselves to the fight against HIV/AIDS from throughout that region were brought together for a three-day session, which empowered them with the skills to act as counselors within their villages.

CYPCC, under the CYPL banner, in collaboration with the Regional AIDS Committee of Region Three, held a training workshop which saw another group of 25 young persons between the ages of 15-29, being trained during a two-day session. The youths were equipped with the emotional and intellectual knowledge they needed to live positively.

To mark the one-year anniversary of the group in September, a Health Tent was erected in Main Street, Georgetown to disseminate information to the general population on sexual and reproductive health.

The CYPLs, with assistance from the Peer Educators Promoters (PEPS) distributed condoms, leaflets and CYPCC related materials. The PEPS staged two dramatic presentations which highlighted risky behaviours, which fuel the spread of the infection, and recommended positive behaviours which one can undertake to be protected from the infection.

In November of the same year, two HIV+ CYPLs were invited to the British Virgin Islands (BVI) as facilitators in the first National Summit for Youth on HIV/AIDS. The objective of their visit was to create awareness on HIV/AIDS among youths in the BVI while addressing gender and cultural issues and to assist in the development a work plan of activities for National HIV/AIDS Programme Secretariat.

In March and April of 2005, two separate discussions were held in Trinidad and Tobago, with the Ministry of Sports and Youth Affairs. The purpose of these discussions was to invite key stakeholders from different youth groups to begin the process of conducting a Gap Analysis, to ascertain the needs of the young people on the Island.

The CYPLs continued with outreach work to communities on the outskirts of Georgetown, throughout the year. At the invitation of the Chairman of the Pakuri ABC Enhancement Programme (PAEP), two CYPLs visited the Amerindian community of St. Cuthbert’s Mission. The CYPLs were asked to facilitate a session on HIV/AIDS and behaviour change, which was part of a workshop on Drug Abuse and HIV/AIDS. The presentation focused on positive living, with particular emphasis on abstinence, being faithful and correct condom use.

Sessions in positive living were also conducted with youths from Santa Mission. CYPL Keeran Williams facilitated these sessions. The young people there were equipped with information on HIV/AIDS and the difference between the two. A follow-up session is planned, to further encourage positive living among the residents.

In June a three-month radio programme entitled “Healthy Living” which targeted both HIV infected and affected persons with information on healthy eating was launched. The panel comprised a medical doctor, a nutritionist, a Person Living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHA), CYPL Natasha Grovesnor and CYPCC Programme Manager, YWET, Mrs. Glenyss James.

The PLWHA on the panel provided support and encouragement through personal testimony, to young people living with the infection as well as those affected by it. For the month of August, the programme focused specifically on youth issues, addressing such topics as: making good decisions, overcoming low self-esteem, identifying individual strengths and building on them, pointers for achieving one’s dreams, the benefits of education, and HIV and AIDS and teenage pregnancy. This month-long special was hosted by CYPLs Natasha and Keeran.

In the month of October, CYPL Natasha visited The Commonwealth of Bahamas to train a new group of Youth Ambassadors for Positive Living (YALP). The group of peer- educators operates out of the Ministry of Health, as a youth-led response to the increase in HIV infection on the islands of the Bahamas. The YAPLs were trained in understanding behaviour change, understanding self, and discipline as a tool in fighting the spread of HIV/AIDS.

Outreach activities continued in November 2005 with visits to three city schools. These were: Kingston Community High, Dolphin Secondary School and Charlestown Secondary. The CYPLs who conducted these sessions were Odinga McDonald, Donston Wilson, Patricia Renee and Lucretia Holder.

The sessions focused on HIV/AIDS/STIs prevention and the importance of positive living with emphasis on abstinence. At the end of the session, the CYPL brochure on positive living was distributed to the students. The brochure contains simple guidelines on how one can live positively.

During this same month, CYPLs Odinga and Natasha visited the community of Kwakwani on the Berbice River. Positive living sessions were conducted with young people who represented various youth organizations. Also in attendance were members of the Peace Corps Volunteers, who were at the time stationed in the area. Specific sessions were conducted in healthy lifestyle choices and risk assessment.

Continuing in November, CYPL Keeran and Natasha facilitated sessions at a United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA)-sponsored youth camp at Madewini on the Linden Soesdyke Highway to conduct positive living sessions focusing on the importance of getting information on HIV/AIDS/STIs.

In December last year, the National Aids Programme Secretariat of the British Virgin Islands extended an invitation to CYPL Keeran Williams to attend the second Youth HIV/AIDS Summit as a youth facilitator. He facilitated sessions in HIV/AIDS, discrimination and advocacy. The Youth Summit coincided with World Aids Day.

In March 2006, a three-month training programme was launched at Mercy Wings Vocational School with the aim of changing risky sexual behaviours and providing tools for positive living to a vulnerable group of teenage under-achievers.

In September 2006, the CYPCC commenced training of a batch of 25 young people in behaviour change and positive living in a two-phase certifiable training, at the end of which they will be appointed as Commonwealth Youth for Positive Living.

That same month a 12-week school intervention programme was launched in two city schools (Dolphin Secondary School and the Carmel Community High School) and the Guyana Industrial Training Centre. The programme is aimed at changing risky sexual behaviour among school aged youth and promoting a culture of positive living.

In October 2006, 30 Dominican youths were exposed to training in behaviour change and discipline during a two-day Self-Development Training workshop facilitated by the CYPCC. The training was the first in a series of training the group is expected to undergo as part of their peer-education training. .

Youth Ambassadors for Positive Living – The Bahamas
A similar programme, the Youth Ambassador for Positive Living (YAPL) was started in The Bahamas in 2004. The YAPL functions to develop young Bahamians as responsible youth and community leaders.

Training and counseling are offered in the areas of HIV/AIDS prevention education and care and support, Drug and alcohol abuse, peer-counseling and peer-leadership skills.

In October 2005, the CYPCC facilitated a workshop for 25 YAPL members in behaviour change and discipline over a three-day period. The collaborative effort between the Ministries of Health and Youth, Sports and Culture of the Bahamas and the Commonwealth Youth Programme Caribbean Centre (CYPCC) was organized to equip the youths with the knowledge and skills to respond to the rise in HIV/AIDS cases in the Bahamas.

With the focus on HIV/AIDS prevention, participants were trained in understanding self with specific emphasis on emotional intelligence; understanding behavior change which allowed them to examined areas of their personal lives where behavioral changes can be made; and discipline as a tool to helping stop the spread of HIV/AIDS.

The training coincided with Ambassador’s Week of activities and culminated with a graduation ceremony at which the group was presented with certificates.

The CYPCC continues to lend technical support to the YAPL Bahamas in the publication and distribution of its quarterly newsletter and the purchasing of T-shirts for the groups’ year round outreach activities.
Natasha Grovesnor
CYPL Intern
CYPL REPORT 2003-2005