The 2023 CND Thematic Discussions were held from 4 to 6 December 2023 at the UNODC headquarters in Vienna, to follow up on the 2019 Ministerial Declaration and conduct a comprehensive stock-taking of all international drug policy commitments to address the identified in the Declaration. Simultaneous to the Thematic Discussions, a series of Fireside Chats on drug policy titled “Engaging Minds” was also organised to engage in informal, open conversations with stakeholders and provide a space for diverse viewpoints to contribute to the discussions on drug policy and stakeholder engagement, in particular in the lead-up to the 2024 CND mid-term review. As one of the three sessions, youth alumni from the Youth Initiative community were invited to speak on 6 December 2023 to share their perspectives and experiences in drug prevention work and youth engagement. The Fireside Chat lasted one hour, during which the moderator led the youths through a series of questions, followed by further questions and informal chats with the audience in attendance.
Alexandra Bravo Schroth, a Youth Forum 2021 participant from Peru, is passionate about fostering the healthy growth and development in children and promoting community prosperity. As an educational psychologist, she shared her thoughts on the pressing issues that she sees affecting the community, to which she responded that ‘education’ and ‘mental health’ are very much important and need to be addressed with priority. She further emphasized her motivation in assisting children and families, and indicated that young people are naturally curious and want to understand the ‘why’ behind many of the recommendations given by adults, including drug prevention in young people. She highlighted that young people are capable of comprehending, provided that correct information is made available, which can be complemented by critical thinking skills and other social skills to build resilience in children and youth. When asked about peer engagement, Alexandra stated, “Young adults and adolescents are more likely to turn to their friends or peers first, rather than their parents. Engaging in peer-to-peer interactions allows you to tap into subcultures that can help reach a broader audience, and have better outreach within your networks.” Furthermore, she shared her experience of getting to know youths with similar interest and motivations through the Youth Initiative, and underscored the value of international collaboration amongst youth advocates, which can facilitate a more inclusive and informed global approach to addressing the world drug problem and laying the groundwork for meaningful positive change. From the other side of the globe, Sarah Jul-Rasmussen, a Youth Forum 2021 participant from Norway, also participated in the Fireside Chats. Sarah is the former president of Juvente Norway, a youth-based NGO focused on alcohol and drug prevention through peer-to-peer methodologies. During the Fireside Chat, Sarah gave examples of how her former NGO had used the peer-to-peer mechanism as a catalyst for reaching more youths and promoting meaningful participation of young people as agents of change in drug prevention. Reflecting on the broader spectrum of youth advocacy, Sarah emphasized the role of young individuals as ambassadors for positive change, promoting good mental health, life skills, and more. Looking into the future, Sarah stressed the importance of genuine inclusion and acceptance of youth voices, providing youths with the opportunity to demonstrate their capability, willingness, and courage to tackle challenges in substance use prevention. “What could be done to empower youth? Actually listen to the youth... I wish that policy makers will trust us, invite us in more conversations, invite us into important meetings about policies that affect us; because we are the ones that will be living with the results of those policy-making decisions.”
A big thanks to both Sarah and Alexandra for sharing their stories of engagement and reflections on substance use prevention and demonstrating how youth can be meaningfully involved and be impactful within the community. Congratulations on the articulation of your points of view, and attracting an audience and keeping their attention throughout the entire event!