In 2007, UNAIDS helped youth participation in the national response to AIDS in Honduras with the creation of the UNAIDS Network of Young Volunteers. Members of the network are young people who are committed to changing the course of the epidemic in the country. The network works in partnership with the United Nations Volunteer Programme, local community-based organizations, and civil society.
“We believe that meaningful youth participation is crucial to a prevention revolution and to increasing HIV awareness among young people in Honduras,” says Alberto Stella, UNAIDS Country Coordinator for Honduras.
UNAIDS provides volunteers with technical support for the planning and implementation of community mobilization and outreach activities, as well as a physical space where volunteers can work independently. About 40 young people have taken part in this initiative since 2007, and through their work they have been able to reach young people at a national level.
"We built an information-sharing mechanism between UNAIDS and young people through social media and the UNAIDS website", explains Edgardo Benítez, a volunteer with the network. "We felt that there was a lot of available information but no easy access to it. Through social media we regularly share key documents, announcements and updates".
The Network also coordinates a documentation centre in the UNAIDS office, which has national and international publications on HIV and related issues, and is used frequently by young people for academic research.
UNAIDS organizes regular training for volunteers in HIV prevention, human rights, and related issues. This enables them to share their knowledge with their peers. The Network of Young Volunteers has partnered with universities and high schools to conduct workshops in urban and rural areas.
“In rural areas, most people still hold taboos and myths about HIV”, explains Sheila Serón, who has been an active volunteer since 2007. “While volunteering with the network I had the chance to inform girls that they could avoid HIV infection by using condoms in a correct and consistent manner, as well as emphasize the importance of taking an HIV test”.
The network also coordinates outreach activities to encourage young people’s participation. In the last two years volunteers have organized movie forums at which young people debate issues such as social inequalities, stigma and discrimination in relation to HIV. Such activities have become a common platform for young people to interact in a friendly environment and participate in discussions. In 2011 the Network used social media to mobilize young people to participate in a photo art competition to show the link between HIV and human rights. The best photographs became part of a travelling photo exhibition and toured several cities in Honduras. This initiative was supported by the Casas de la Cultura (Institutions of Culture).
Young people have become major actors in their own response. The network supported UNAIDS and other partners in the organization and follow-up of key national events, including a wide range of activities during World Aids Day in 2010 and 2011, which were planned in partnership with the Ministry of Health, civil society organizations and people living with HIV.
Network volunteers come from a broad range of cultural, social and geographical backgrounds and reflect the diversity of Honduran society. Volunteers are encouraged to visit civil society and community-based organizations. Marianela Muñoz spent one month in a community-based organization caring for AIDS-orphaned children. “With this experience I got a glimpse of the actions I want to take to help my country”, she says.
“Taking part in the UNAIDS Volunteer Network has opened my mind to the fact that we all have the right to be healthy, regardless of gender, sexual orientation, or religion, and that HIV should not be a reason to stigmatize or discriminate others. I have learned so much alongside my fellow volunteers at UNAIDS; now I am informed and empowered”, says Violeta Mora, another volunteer with the network.
In 2011, the programme was awarded the National Cultural Volunteer Award by The Ministry of Culture, The Spanish Embassy in Honduras, UNDP and UNV for its outstanding work as a young volunteer organization that promotes social development.