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Empowering the next generation of diabetes advocates

IDF Europe has for years sought to engage young people in raising awareness of diabetes. Its flagship event in this area, the annual Europe Youth Leadership Camp for people aged 18-30 with diabetes, connects young advocates and gives them support and knowledge to help promote diabetes care and prevention in their communities.

This year's camp took place in the Czech Republic in July. We spoke to one of the delegates, Aleksandra Đurić, a medical doctor and diabetes advocate from Serbia, to hear her take on the event and what it brings to young advocates like herself.

The stated purpose of the camp is to ‘nurture the new generation of advocates’. Why are young people essential to diabetes prevention, management and care?

As in many things in life, there is pressure on young people because we are the ones who will be most affected, but also, we are often the ones who can drive change. My main area of interest as a youth advocate is sport and nutrition, which is so important for the management of diabetes. Being active and eating right can prevent a series of complications related to both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes, and generally make daily life easier and happier. As someone who has lived with diabetes for 12 years, and who is a medical doctor by profession, my mission as a young advocate is to educate people with diabetes about the amazing benefits of a healthy lifestyle. Especially younger people, who have many years ahead of them, and who can also become advocates who the same lessons in their communities. 

What are the main barriers a young advocate faces in shaping a better environment for people with diabetes?

There are always obstacles and achieving even small change is often difficult. Sometimes people don’t take you seriously. Usually people who are older or in senior roles. They seem to think: why would someone young know more than I would; and why should I have to change? I find that deep knowledge, experience, and perseverance get you heard. As a doctor and someone with diabetes, I have both: I have deep knowledge and 12 years of experience living with diabetes. If you have this knowledge and experience, trust yourself, and have people around who support you, you can really have an impact as an advocate.

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Does the camp provide you with tools and skills to help overcome these obstacles?

Yes! We all learn so much from others at the camp and from different experiences we have in each of our countries. It has helped me build an amazing network and feel part of a community. The format is interactive, so we are able to constantly talk and bounce ideas off each other. Personally, I shared my experiences of diabetes and sports: how a healthier lifestyle has affected my experience of having diabetes and how I went to med school to learn more about how the body works. 

Did anything in particular strike you in your interaction with the other delegates?

I discovered how completely different our health systems are although we are on the same continent. Some countries have amazing systems with all the latest technology and therapies available, while others have access to just medicines, but not even the best and latest. Even though we are neighbours, our experiences can be very different. But learning about these differences will help make us better advocates in our own countries, as we know what great care really means. 

How is being part of a team important for a young advocate?

Being in a team is so much better than being on your own. We take strength from each other simply through knowing we’re not alone. But it goes further than that. Diabetes is complicated: there are so many different sides to it. Each person has strengths and weaknesses. Knowing these and working as a team means everyone’s strengths are put to use. And it creates a great environment which has carried on beyond the event. We’re constantly communicating and making plans to meet again outside the camp to develop projects together in the field of diabetes. We’re also connected to previous attendees of the camp. In some ways the camp creates its own alumni network.

How is this camp different to other events you’ve attended?

There is a great balance between the formal, focused on advocacy and leadership training, and the informal, in which we do other activities together. We even organised a flash mob in the centre of Prague in front of 100s of people! It was intimidating, given that I’ve never done anything like it before, but it taught me what leadership and organisation can achieve in a short period of time. The informal element helped us get to know each other far more than if we’d only had formal training. Another highlight was the taboo session. During the week, people could anonymously put questions related to diabetes in a box. These were all discussed at the end of the week, and were so deeply personal, relating to things work, relationships, discrimination. The session really embodied the spirt of the camp: these are very serious issues, but we were comfortable to share our experiences, and in the process, learn from each other and really appreciate that none of us are alone in this.

 

Lilly understands the essential role youth play in raising awareness as well as the importance for people with diabetes to connect, learn, network, debate and share ideas. This is why Lilly Diabetes supports the IDF Europe Youth Leadership Camp in order to encourage the development of Young Leaders in being a voice for prevention, access to basic diabetes supplies and education, quality care, improved quality of life, and in ending discrimination.

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