The Young Ambassadors of Positive Living Programme (YAPL) was initiated in 1993 by CYP Africa Regional Centre as a response to the challenges posed by the spread of HIV and AIDS among young people.
Its success has led to it being replicated in Asia and the Caribbean in 2001 and 2002 respectively. The main objective of the programme is to enable young women and men living with the virus to share personal experiences with their peers and create awareness about the HIV and AIDS pandemic through the promotion of dialogue between young people living with the virus, local communities, NGOs and governments. It has also broadened to deal with the issue of substance abuse.
The programme advocates for positive behavioural changes among youth who are infected with and affected by HIV/AIDS, or involved in substance abuse, and does so through an approach called Positive Living. This approach requires an individual to be cognizant of his/her sexual and behavioural practices which can put him/her at risk of HIV infection; and through the exercise of self-discipline, adopt healthier and safer sexual and behavioural practices and continue adherence to those positive behaviours. In essence, positive living is about embracing behaviours that are beneficial to one’s physical, sexual and reproductive, intellectual, psychological, social, emotional and spiritual health.
Young people constitute a significant segment of the population who are at high risk of HIV/AIDS. HIV has a young face and this face is also often female. Globally one-third of women who are living with the virus are between 15 – 24 years of age. However, with evidence of prevalence reducing among young people there is hope that the epidemic could be turned around with more investments in young people.
The YAPL have been instrumental in facilitating and advocating for the formation of national and regional networks of persons living with HIV/AIDS across a number of countries. They have been key proponents for increased resource mobilization and resource allocation to youth-related HIV/AIDS programmes. They have continued to advocate for the elimination of stigma and discrimination. They recognize that the failure to disclose one’s status and live positively is a major factor in the perpetuation of the stigma and discrimination. They continue to promote Voluntary and Counselling Centre (VCT) services and other outreach activities such as targeted Behaviour Change Communication (BCC).
Through YAPL, the CYP has introduced HIV/AIDS and drug abuse awareness programmes in schools, universities, youth clubs and other youth organisations. This is achieved through innovative techniques such as street plays, media campaigns, publicity events, quizzes, competitions, music concerts, fire spinning and peer education.
McAlex (Bahamas) writes: “Being a Youth Ambassador has taught me to be a leader and to always be aware of my behaviour since I am in a position of influence to other young people. Likewise, I am more aware of who I allow to surround me, because consciously or unconsciously they will influence me and this may not always be in a positive way. Also I learnt what I should and should not be doing and the consequences for my actions. For example, the programme has helped me to make the decision to delay my first sexual experience until I am more informed about myself and my partner.”