In honor of National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, organizer Sashika Baunchand will present the third annual O.M.G Youth Conference Saturday at Southern University.
Baunchand is the executive director of the event’s founding organization, Outstanding Mature Girlz, and is also the Louisiana advocacy consultant for AIDS Healthcare Foundation.
She said she started the conference as an awareness tool for young women, ages 10 and older, to better understand the disease, prevention, and to discuss other useful information via a girl-talk style outlet.
“I feel the O.M.G Conference is also a great conversation starter for parents, who may have a hard time talking to their kids about HIV/AIDS/STDs,” Baunchand said. “We are not taking their place, we are simply a safe tool they can use to help build upon what they may already have in place.”
The first conference was held in Ponchatoula in 2013 with 100 girls in attendance and received support from both the mayors of Ponchatoula and Hammond. Since moving to Baton Rouge in 2014, the attendance has grown to more than 300 girls, and received a proclamation from Mayor-President Kip Holden. The daylong event includes live entertainment and guest speakers, including Eugene Collins, from Louisiana’s Office of Public Health, who will speak about the youth HIV/STD rates in Baton Rouge, and Pastor Angel Nicholas who will share a personal story.
More speakers are expected to be confirmed.
The keynote speaker will be international HIV/AIDS activist Hydeia Broadbent. Known for her childhood appearance on the “Oprah Winfrey” show, the now 31-year-old activist was born HIV positive and had developed full blown AIDS by age 5.
“Our choice to include Hydeia Broadbent was a no-brainer,” Baunchand said. “She is effective at getting the job done when it comes to talking to young girls about HIV, she’s a remarkable young woman with a remarkable story, and we look forward to her message reaching the hearts of all those in attendance.”
Baunchand said she hopes the organization will receive the community’s continued support after the conference, either in donations or service and time.
“Our goal with the platform we create is to make sure the conversation about HIV/AIDS is an ongoing conversation and that people stay wanting to educate themselves,” she said. “That people let go of the stigma that is holding them back from receiving treatment and care, and most importantly, if infected, staying in care. Finally, continue to stimulate their mind with skills they can use in becoming super advocates.”
The conference will also include six breakout sessions covering issues that Baunchand said young girls are facing today, like self-esteem and healthy eating, all with names taken from text-speak, like L.O.L. (Loving Our Looks) and S.M.H (Securing My Health), respectively.
The free event will serve a light breakfast and lunch, and free HIV testing will also be available.
“The plans for this year’s conference is to have it full of fun energy the whole way through, while educating the girls on HIV, eliminating stigma, and stimulating their minds on life skills and values,” Baunchand said. “We also look forward to seeing more girls get tested, by providing free HIV testing, which will be made available for the entire community.”