19-year old Aide from Potosi, Bolivia, had the chance to participate in the World Health Assembly in Geneva this past week. The days were long, exciting and emotional. Aide had two interventions in side events and was even able to meet the Bolivian ambassador.
During her interventions, Aide strongly advocated establishing programs for adolescents through adequate investment. She also explained the importance of training health care personnel in order to provide appropriate assistance, care and guidance for adolescents, particularly girls, to prevent discrimination against and improve health care for them.
The rooms where Aide gave her speeches were packed. Her emotional testimony and very clear demands caught the attention of health leaders from all around the world. She received lots of positive and promising feedback that allows for follow-up meetings with key stakeholders.
Aide grew up in Potosi, a mining town in Bolivia. At the age of eight, her mom moved with her and her younger brother to Argentina to work in a textile factory. Her mom worked long hours and hardly saw her children. Aide looked after her younger brother during this time. At the tender age of 11, she started to suffer from sexual assaults from a close family member. When she was 13, her family returned to Potosi, Aide was six months pregnant at that stage without being aware of the pregnancy. Back in Bolivia, Aide suffered ‘cold treatment’ from health personnel and faced discrimination being a teenage mom from society while seeking for information about contraceptives.
Trying to deal with this new situation, Aide focused on her studies and on her son. She continuously highlights the support she received from her grandmother. Last year, Aide graduated from high school and enrolled at the university to become a nurse. It has not been an easy adolescence, Aide had to confront, but she carries an extraordinary strength in her combined with a strong desire to change things.
Aide’s favorite phrase to describe this trip and this step in her life story is: Let us not be victims anymore, let us be victorious! To be honest, I think Aide has already achieved this objective.
Now, returning from this exciting trip, Aide will return to her studies to become a nurse and very much hopes for a meeting with the Health Minister of Bolivia to express her concerns regarding the challenges teenage girls face in Bolivia. She is a very determined young woman whose motivation to bring about changes for girls in Bolivia is driven by her own life story and the strong desire to help girls in similar situations.
To switch on the English subtitles, click on the wheel within the video.
Now, sitting at the airport in Lima, on our way back to Bolivia, we reflected a little on this trip, which somehow still seems to be a dream:
Aide, we are already close to being back home after this exciting week in Geneva. How do you feel now?
Aide: I am very much looking forward to arrive at Potosi and to see my grandmother, mother and of course my son. I want to feel the warmth of my home. I am also so excited to initiate and move forward with activities that will help other girls.
Why do you think your participation in the World Health Organization has been important?
Aide: I have lived a pregnancy when I was a teenager. I know what it means, the struggles one faces, the fear one carries, and the emotional rollercoaster one has to go through. I think my participation has been really important because I know what I am talking about. Because of that, I was able to share those problems related to teenage pregnancies in a real way to the participants at the World Health Assembly.
What has been the most important moment for you during your stay in Geneva and your participation in the World Health Assembly?
Aide: For me it has been so amazing, and really like a dream come true - to meet the ambassador of Bolivia in Geneva, to have her listen to me and the problems pregnant teenagers face in Bolivia. The ambassador said that it might be possible for me to meet up with the Bolivian Minister of Health to talk about these issues. I really hope that this meeting will happen.
How has it been to meet other girls from other countries during the World Health Assembly?
Aide: It was emotional. It was good and I think very important to get to know the reality other adolescents face in their countries. It caught my attention that there persists a lack in all countries to really understand adolescents and young adults. It seems that adolescents all around the world face discrimination.
Do you have a goal now coming back to your country?
Aide: Oh my God! I have sooo many (laughs). Now, it is clearer than ever to me that I won’t stop helping other girls that suffered or that are suffering sexual, physical or psychological violence. This has to stop – the society needs to understand this!
I also want to organize discussion sessions for girls to support them in overcoming the challenges they face so that they fight for their dreams.
An important priority for me is to finalize my studies to become a nurse. One of my new objectives is that I really want to learn English. It is so important to communicate with people from all around the world.
Do you have any additional message you’d like to share?
Aide: I want to tell my Bolivia and all the people that all girls and young women deserve respect, both the poor and the rich. That way we can change our country for the better.
Later translated to English in the video.
Personally, for me, it has been an amazing experience to accompany Aide in her adventure - to see how this journey has brought her a step closer to fulfil her objectives, and allowed her to speak out for all the girls that face violence and discrimination in Bolivia. I am so happy that she is a spokesperson of our Every Last Child Campaign in Bolivia, but moreover, that she really is able “to be the voice of the ones that don’t have a voice”.
She was able to share the real struggles she and millions of other Bolivian girls face daily. I saw it in the faces of many people that were present in her interventions and the ones that came up to her after her speeches to reflect on the situation with her and congratulate her for raising the issue of teenage pregnancies and sexual violence.
As we move more and more towards reaching every last child, I think it is such a good and important practice to make it possible that children and adolescents participate in local, national, regional and international advocacy spaces. It requires a lot of effort and teamwork but it has been definitely worth it and we, as an organization, should put child participation as one of our highest priorities.