“What happened???” I asked, unable to hide the shock in my voice. “A street gang, in my neighbourhood,” he said with a very sad look on his face.
Orlando is a teenager who lives in one of Lima’s poorest areas. For more than three years, he has been working as a volunteer in the Punto J project that IDRC
supports in Peru.
For Orlando, the cuts are particularly serious, as he is a graphic designer for Punto J and loves to draw. He is a talented kid who has produced most of the characters on the site
; sharp, colourful, and edgy designs that have made the portal a reference point in the region for HIV/AIDS awareness and sexual education for and by youth.
With the funding provided by IDRC
in the second phase of the project, the Peruvian model is being adapted by six other countries in the region – Argentina, Bolivia, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, and Mexico – and Orlando has been hired to work with the Instituto de Educación y Salud (IES), which operates the Punto J portal. He has also enrolled in a 3D course that is developing his talent even further.
I sat with him for a while longer and introduced him to Second Life, an online virtual world, which he had never seen before. While he was glued to my computer screen examining the avatars, I looked around me: I was surrounded by about 20 teenagers ranging from 16 to 25 years old, chatting together about their experiences with Punto J.
During the morning session, a 17 year-old volunteer from the Peruvian jungle – where the Punto J experience is also being replicated – spoke to the group about the importance of working together to prevent and fight the spread of HIV. Another volunteer followed, asking her peers how to use the portal to discuss the issue of climate change with youth. The potato crops in her region have been badly affected by rain and drought, which had never happened before.
IDRC / Aneglica Ospina
I thought: “What was I doing when I was 17? Nothing like this. This is a new generation that gets it. These teenagers are not indifferent to what is happening around them; they understand and manage technologies and want to use them to make a change. They care. And most importantly, they are taking charge.”
Orlando was still beside me, transporting my avatar somewhere deep inside the Second Life world. He would go home that night, still surrounded by a harsh reality. But, in part because of the project IDRC
is supporting, he is very different from the other kids in his neighbourhood. He is developing his skills, he plays an important role within a valuable team, and, with the help of technology, he will continue making a difference for many.
I took a deep breath. We are making a difference.
The day concluded with five representatives from Peru’s Ministry of Health, including the coordinator of the national HIV strategy, sitting in an open circle with all the participants to talk about the importance of youth advocacy, perseverance for policy influence, and empowerment. They emphasized the need to listen to the needs of youth so the portal of the Ministry was not a dead end. They were proud to announce that they had just posted an awareness-raising video displaying two young gay men talking about condoms, which had been banned in the recent past.
Important change is happening, on so many levels. And what we do, day to day, is contributing to that change.
About Punto J
Punto J is an Internet portal based in Lima, Peru. Its mandate is to educate Peruvian youth who are disproportionately at risk of contracting HIV/AIDS, partly because they lack information about protection against sexually transmitted diseases and how to develop a healthy approach to sexuality.
Punto J is energized by the young volunteers who produce the website’s content, design its graphics, and search for innovative ways to educate other young Peruvians.
Partly funded by IDRC
, Punto J is managed by Peru’s Instituto de Educación y Salud.