ACON has sent off its first Youth Ambassador to work with organisations in Thailand to promote HIV prevention and safe male-to-male sex practices.

Rob Sutherland, an ACON employee for four years, is the first person chosen for the Australian Youth Ambassador for Development scheme, a Department of Foreign Affairs and Trading-funded program.

Sutherland will spend 12 months working with ACON’s sister organisation, The Rainbow Sky Organisation and UNAIDS to promote HIV prevention and develop contacts to spread the message of safe male-to-male sex.

ACON community development manager Stephen Scott said the experience would be invaluable.

“Our timing for organising this was really good. We’d been looking to the Department of Foreign Affairs to try and get some funding for exchanges and UNAIDS was trying to organise something through the AYAD scheme, because they’ve been scaling up their programs dealing with male-on-male sex. ACON has a recognised reputation for approaching those topics, so it was a good reference point for them,” he said.

“From our perspective, this is a great opportunity that we’re really excited about being able to offer to our younger staff members.”

Sutherland is certainly excited about the opportunity.

“I’m excited, anxious, all of those emotions, but this is definitely something I’ve always wanted to do,” he said.

“It will definitely be a different type of working environment, coming from the Australian context where we have such a well-resourced and well-understood HIV campaign to the Asian context which isn’t so well-funded or spoken about. But right now, my main worry is just getting over the language barrier.”

Scott said the program was one ACON would be interested in maintaining.

“We are really aware though that we have to take things one step at a time and we’re aware that it’s really important that we maintain our focus on the local area work that ACON does,” he said.

“But it’s a great opportunity to share our knowledge, and also learn some things that could benefit the work we do here.”

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