Youth Health 2011 #YH2011

Youth Health 2011: It's totally important!
The 8th Australian & New Zealand Adolescent Health Conference
3rd IAAH Asia Pacific Congress
9-11 November 2011

What an intense, amazing and productive three days.

A few months ago, I was talking to my housemate about how conferences seem outdated - that with the Internet, it seems more logical to run conferences as webinars.  That way, you save on carbon emissions through flights.  You save on expensive catering and wasted brochures.  In a lot of ways, I still think webinars are a great idea.  I am also slowly coming to terms with why conferences are amazing - it's more than the speeches, it's the atmosphere.  It's having 500 people who are fascinating by a topic come together to make connections, begin great projects and work together to better their field.  THAT is what makes conferences worthwhile.

This year's Youth Health was no exception to that rule.  The pre-conference day allowed a number of people to interact with topics as diverse as General Practice, rights, e-health, building resilience and eating disorders.  It was also a very special day for me.  I was lucky enough to co-facilitate a workshop under the Co-operative Research Centre for Young People, Technology and Wellbeing (soon to receive a much more snappy name) about using relatively simple social media.  The workshop that I helped run was with another girl, not much older than me, who I had never met.  We'd first spoken over teleconference in the planning stages of the pre-conference day.  I'd imagined her to be very tall, strong and with dark hair.  Who knows why.  She seems like the sort of person who knows who she is.  The sort of person who doesn't need to be told that she's awesome, because she's pretty confident in her own skin.  A smart woman. Someone much wiser than her 20-something years.  I knew she was studying a PhD. That's pretty cool. It's in music, so she must also be exceptionally talented. We spoke some months later on Skype so that we could plan together.  It turned out that she wasn't a brunette - instead wearing long blonde locks.  No matter.  We met for the very first time AT Youth Health.  We facilitated a workshop together having only spoken in real life for about 20 minutes.  Yet, our presentation ran seamlessly.  Somehow, through the Internet, we'd forged a strong relationship.  Despite her being quite different in appearance to what I had expected, all of the personality traits I'd picked up prior seemed to shine at the conference.  And she's modest to boot!  On that first day, I made a friend for life.

That afternoon, my friend and I attended the Youth Delegate orientation.  We were both lucky enough to be selected to the 35-member youth representation at the conference.  There were, of course, young people there in other capacties.  It just goes to prove that you can be under-25 and doing great things.  There were health professionals under-25, policy-makers, PhD candidates, students (high school and university) and many other amazing people amongst us.  It was humbling to meet so many people making so much out of their lives, many of them despite backgrounds with hardship.  We talked, found common ground and eased our way into the conference.  It was so strange, however, to be in a group solely on the basis of age.  Strange, because for years we were all organised on age in school.  And now, in Medical School, we are in "year levels" yet I find it incredibly bizarre to spend time with people solely because they are 'young'.  Many of my friends are over 25, some under 20.  Age isn't something I worry about too much anymore.  Indeed, my freshly-18 friends had to deal with my constantly forgetting that they weren't 'legal' yet.  Age is pretty arbitrary, really.

You're probably wondering how I can say age is arbitrary, despite being at a conference focused specifically on Youth Health.  Well, yes, it is pretty arbitrary in a lot of ways.  Some 14-year olds are more mature than some 28-year olds.  We're all very different people.  Youth is not homogenous.  That is one of the most important things any professional could pick up from this conference.

The conference-proper started that evening.  There was the most beautiful Welcome to Country.  I love it when Welcome to Country is sincere and about really respecting the true custodians of this land.  It's very easy to forget how much they have done for us, and hard to come to terms with how disrespectful modern society is of this land.  Every time I listen to a Welcome to Country, I want to bring the 'better days' of innovation, responsibility and sustainability back.  We can all learn a lot from Aboriginal Australian traditions.

Following some beautiful speeches, the students of St Peters Christian College (I think!) did a magnificent, astounding rendition of their Rock Eisteddfod School Performance.  I was blown away.  Here were students who are so often told to 'knuckle down' and 'do [their] homework' performing rock/ballet/jazz/acting in perfect synchrony for fifteen minutes or more.  If only we all had such talent.  These young people were proving to the world just how great youth can be.

All too soon, it was time to go home to prepare for the next day's early start.

Thursday.  The first real day of conference.  Speeches galore.  Constant wonder, intellectual curiosity, satiated. We heard from the amazing Governor General, Her Excellency Ms Quentin Bryce AC.  We were welcomed by Emma Byrne, Chair of the NSW Youth Advisory Council.  Some exceptionally talented young people from Beyondblue Indigenous Hip Hop performed...the audience speechless in wonder.  Professor Blum from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health entranced us with his conceptual framework for early adolescence.  A number of us tweeted furiously to cover every word of his speech.  We broke our accounts several times with tweet-flooding.  So we switched accounts.  Again. And again.

We heard from Dr Laura Guarenti, the WHO Country representative for Papua New Guinea. She told us a moving story of the low health education levels in PNG, of the young girls who didn't know about reproductive health, the children born to such young women who knew no other option, the nuns who weren't allowed to spread health messages due to their superiors banning it.  Despite this tragic tale, Dr Guarenti still managed to make us laugh.  She is an inspiration.

Proessor Louise Newman AM spoke of those young people seeking asylum in our 'lucky country' and Associate Professor Ngiare Brown (someone I am lucky enough to have met several time through my University), a medical officer with the Australian Indigenous Doctors' Association, spoke about prioritising Aboriginal adolescent wellbeing.  The two speeches contrasted in an odd yet perfect way.  We then heard from the wonderful soul, Alicia Veasey, who represented the work of DreamTrack.  

We split off for concurrent sessions - decisions on which to attend far more difficult than I would have liked because everything looked amazing. Friends presenting in a number of different rooms.  Exciting topics covered in all of them.  And only one of me.

I could go on for hours and hours about how wonderful and inspiring this conference was for all of us who attended.  I could wax lyrical about the friends I made.  More importantly, though, is to digest and then create plans to set into action.  To implement many of the frameworks suggested by the speakers.  To work together to better adolescent health (and therefore future adult health).  Because we can.  Because we need to do this.

My plan of action - I'm still working on it.  In part, the lessons will go into Avenir Rural Mentoring.  In part, these lessons will go into my medical training.  The conference got me thinking (again) about specialising in Paediatrics.  We'll see how that goes but it is definitely an option. My plan is to remember, to learn, to keep going and to always keep my eyes open. My plan is to never underestimate young people.  If you really need proof, you should watch this.


dm said…
I hadn't seen that video - loved it! What a kid!

The Youth Health conference was awesome. One of the things I'm most excited by is how infectious was the passion of the younger people there - and how I think this rejuvenated a lot of the older attendees! Equally, I'm excited to see us younger people growing into the health community with a true personal investment in action, guided by values and dreams rather than career aspirations!

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