Arriving in Port-of-Spain on 14 October 2019, the air was abuzz with anticipation, excitement and curiosity from everyone attending the Caribbean Congress on Youth and Adolescent Health (CCAYH). This conference, which was the first of its kind, provided a unique opportunity for youth from all over the Caribbean to engage with experts in various fields regarding their own health, and a real chance for the voices of young people to be heard and taken into consideration. This was highlighted during the opening ceremony and was echoed throughout the conference: “Nothing for us, without us”.
The three days of the Congress, although hectic, were full of information sessions that were interesting, innovative, eye-opening and relevant, not just to the Caribbean, but in particular to Caribbean youth and adolescents. The participants were actively engaged in panel discussions, smaller focus group sessions, knowledge cafes, and social events- all of which served to foster the exchange of information, bring the participants closer together and create a sense of community working with a common purpose and for a common goal to improve health and development of the Region’s adolescent and youth. At the very onset of the Congress, participants connected and rallied around the different issues ranging from climate change and its impact on our health to the importance of achieving optimal mental health at a time when adolescents and young adults continue to grapple with bullying, societal acceptance and the need to succeed in a highly competitive environment. The networking opportunities and connections made were invaluable. We shared and appreciated the diversity in our opinions and experiences as we learned from each other.
We committed to staying in touch, to continue the advocacy for youth health and development and to build on the excellent momentum created by the Congress.
Of particular interest to me, was the fact that mental health in the Caribbean was prominently highlighted during the course of the Congress. As this was my interest area, and the area I presented on at the Congress, I was extremely happy to see Caribbean youth take such an interest and recognize the importance of promoting mental health awareness and mental health advocacy in the region. In addition to Mental Health and Substance Abuse, the other tracks presented on at the Congress were 1. Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights 2. Nutrition, Physical Activity, Sports and Youth Development and 3. Climate Change and the environment. All of these areas are significant to adolescent and youth health, and I was happy to see that the organizers and participants recognized this and participated actively in all of the sessions.
Overall, the Caribbean Congress on Adolescent and Youth Health was a positive experience. At the end of the three days, a roadmap based on the discussions and recommendations from the various sessions was developed, and both the organizers and youth pledged to play an active role in implementing it. I look forward to seeing this roadmap implemented, and the positive changes it will bring. I also look forward to more events like this, as I think it was a great learning experience and of benefit not only to the individual participants but to youth development in the Caribbean region as well.