|© UNICEF India/2007/Patel|
|Some of Gujarat’s 14,000 peer educators attend a convention in Surat to celebrate their programme’s first anniversary.|
By Gurinder Gulati
GUJARAT, India, 12 June 2007 – The western state of Gujarat, a border area with a fairly high number of migrant labourers, is well known for its rapid economic development and ranks among India’s ‘medium prevalence’ states with regard to HIV.
“I had never heard of HIV/AIDS until I attended a training programme organized by UNICEF to train peer educators” said Ashok Bhai, a Gujarat youth who is involved in raising other youths’ awareness about AIDS prevention.
In May 2006, UNICEF Gujarat joined hands with health authorities and non-governmental partners to establish a cadre of HIV/AIDS peer educators like Ashok in the state’s three most vulnerable districts: Vadodara, Surat and Valsad. Today, a formidable 14,000-plus peer educators continuously spread messages on prevention in remote villages within the three districts.
They are also helping to shatter prevailing social myths about HIV and AIDS.
Educators gather for anniversary
To commemorate the first anniversary of the HIV/AIDS campaign in Gujarat, UNICEF organized a convention for the peer educators. The main aim of the gathering was to let the educators share their experiences and learn from each other.
Enthusiasm was clear on the faces of the young people, who came in large numbers from their villages to attend the one-day meeting.
|© UNICEF India/2007/Patel|
|Peer educators from Surat organized a stage show on HIV/AIDS prevention.|
Female peer educators, who outnumbered their male counterparts, were active participants in the conference. “We were locked behind the four walls of our house,” said one proud young woman named Julekhaben, from Kathor village. “Because of this programme, we can not only do something useful for society – in the process, we are also making a name for ourselves.”
Work showcased at convention
During the conference, the peer educators related their views on the benefits of training. “We had never seen HIV-positive people before,” said one youth. “It was only during the training that we could meet them, and now we feel that we should have a positive attitude towards them.”
A variety of activities such as cultural programmes, role-playing sessions and exhibitions were organized to showcase the prevention work being done in different areas.
Gujarat Health Minister Ashok Bhatt participated as well, noting that he appreciated UNICEF and its partners for having created such a valuable resource to fight AIDS. He went on to thank the young people for their pioneering work to protect the lives of their peers.
A force for social change
Mr. Bhatt also appealed to the peer educators to involve themselves in other programmes and use their expertise and talent to mobilize for better health in the community.
In response to the Health Minister’s appeal, 300 peer educators promptly signed up to support an upcoming polio immunization campaign.
UNICEF Gujarat State Representative Yogendra Mathur described the peer educators as “a force to reckon with” and said this newfound resource would make life safer for the youths of Vadodara, Surat and Valsad. More than that, added Dr. Mathur, their efforts will serve as a catalyst for change in society as a whole.
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