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Eminent actor meets village volunteers

© UNICEF/ Mukesh Meshram/ 2008
Actor Swapneel observing volunteers in action

Vidya Kulkarni

Chandrapur district, Maharashtra: When it comes to taking on the challenges of life, rural youth seem to be more prepared than their urban counterparts despite their limited access to information and resources. This has been the experience of Swapneel Joshi, a well known young actor, through his first hand interaction with the youth of Datala village, Chandrapur district in Maharashtra state. Calling this visit a ‘moving experience’ Swapneel appreciated the impressive work done by the youth for self improvement and community development.

“I was impressed to see how the youth have channelised their energies and assertiveness in a constructive and meaningful way to address local issues” shares the actor, visiting Chandrapur for the first time.

The visit was organized as part of UNICEF’s initiative in partnering with celebrities to highlight community issues and actions.  “Being celebrities we have a wider audience. People are interested in listening to what we say, so why not cash in on the popularity to support a good cause,” expressed the actor.  Such celebrity visits also invigorate enthusiasm among local volunteers.

For Datala villagers and the youth in particular, it was an opportunity to share their initiatives and learnings. Working under the banner of ‘Uday Gram Vikas Mandal’ over 25 young men and women in the village have come together as an outcome of the village planning exercise carried out by Nehru Yuva Vikas Mandal and UNICEF, to form a group to promote developmental issues.

As the district has the highest prevalence of HIV in the state, motivated group members are currently involved in promoting HIV awareness including voluntary testing.  Two group members have been elected as representatives in the village Gram Panchayat (village governance) which gives them an opportunity to work with local leaders on the issue.  The group has recently developed a Village Information Post (VIP) in the Gram Panchayat premises for making information on HIV more accessible to the community.

© UNICEF/ Mukesh Meshram/ 2008
Actor Swapneel interacting with villagers

Swapneel visited the Village Information Post where members explained how the group works to build awareness on HIV. Talking about sexual behavior in public and giving demonstrations of condom use using a penis model is not an easy task.  But local resistance does not deter them.

On December 1st 2007, the group had organized a huge rally in their village as part of the World AIDS Day.  These efforts have paid off, minimizing the hesitation among villagers  and many, including pregnant women, are coming forward for voluntary HIV testing. “Sexual behavior is considered a private matter and hence you need to have of the confidence of people when you talk to them about sex related issues. The impact made by youth in Datala goes to show the strong rapport they have built with the community through their hard work” observes Swapneel. Proactive youth initiatives such as these provide a model to combat the spread of HIV in the district.

Addressing the villagers, Swapneel applauded the sense of commitment of the youth towards the well being of their community. According to the actor, “Today youth leadership is visible in all walks of life, from politics, sports to IT sector. Datala youth are no exception and they are emerging as leaders willing to bring in change that will benefit all. I genuinely would like to be a part of this wide spectrum of youth leadership, who recognize their duty towards their society.”

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