The World Economic Forum is many things. A celebration of global capitalism and the cult of making more money than everyone else; the old white men dressed in thousand pound suits' club and a surreal mix of faces off the telly. For us, six young people chosen by the British Council, the entire experience was pretty surreal. At one point, Juan, 16, from Argentina spotted Bill Gates heading down the stairs. He fought through the throng of CEO's and journalists to shake his hand, and got stuck in a Davos traffic jam as the Ayatollah came up the stairs from the other direction and was boxed in at the top by Harmid Karzai of Afghanistan.
The one thing the six of us did that I was the most proud of us was how we kept our feet on the ground right from the beginning. As the train approached Davosplatz, we had our knees on the seats and heads out the window, shouting 'Guten Tag' to the assorted dignitaries of all flavors who were also converging on the tiny town.
The WEF is obviously a serious place, and very serious people go there, however we kept our friendliness and openness which I feel made a big impact on everyone we met. We always said hello to everyone, which more often than not turned into interesting and fruitful discussions with people. One of our group, Gillion, had the South African business delegation falling over themselves to fund his projects.
The bars were always a great place to chat with all these important people. Whitney from the US and I were stocking up on sandwiches for our group at the bar when a hungry looking journalist from Al Jazeera came up and asked for some too. The barmaid, noticing her gold press badge, replied in an appropriately German accent 'No! No food for you. You press, only drinks!' We then asked her for as many sandwiches as she had, and spilt the loot with the grateful journalist.
So after many long days of preparation we did our session, "Future Shifts: The Voice of the Next Generation," with actress Emma Thompson, former UN Commissioner for Refugees, Sadako Ogata and moderated by Becky Anderson of CNN. Actually we were very lucky to get Mrs Ogata, because for a while it seemed like we would have been joined by a certain corrupt dictator, but thanks to the British Council it all went off without a hitch.
The most amazing thing about it for me was that I got to talk about what I am personally really concerned about, the discrimination and prejudice faced by young lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, by HIV positive people and young people who are sexually exploited. The problems that these groups of people face are immense. There are 13 countries in the world where HIV + are barred from entering, including Sudan, Saudi Arabia, and the United States. A lack of education on LGBT issues in school is causing continuing prejudice in the western world and is putting peoples' lives at risk when their knowledge of HIV and other STD's is sketchy at best. In the developing world, the criminalization of the sexual practices of gay people, the stigma attached to them and the total lack of services is causing an explosion of HIV infections. It was often thought that infections between men who have sex with men (MSM) was a tiny minority in the developing world, but not so. In Senegal, MSM are 27 times more likely to become infected, in China, 45 times and in Mexico, men who have sex with men are 109 times more likely to get HIV than the rest of the population. This is not the fault of the community, this does not mean that gay people should be discriminated against even more; this means that globally, there is a tremendous amount of work and campaigning to do to address these horrific facts, like how fewer than 1 in 20 gay men globally have access to HIV testing, treatment or prevention, or the explosion in violence against many lesbian women in South Africa.
Our session over, there was still the media work to do. We were frantically shepherded from interviews with CNN, CNBC and Swiss TV. Juan became something of a national hero in Argentina; Yunan from China did a live webcast with a famous American blogger; Whitney spoke with Russian radio and was invited along to do another interview with Emma Thompson; Swiss radio came to our hotel to interview Rhadeena from Sri Lanka, and Gillion appeared on CNBC Africa. Meanwhile I was placed in the satisfying position of telling a UK national newspaper they had to call me back because I had to get to a TV interview.
But despite all the media coverage and the schmoozing with the rich and powerful, we kept to our message, we kept our feet on the ground, and we are back in our communities, making the change that we know we can.