Painting the Town with Red Ribbons
MUMBAI, India,25 February 2010 At first glance, it was like any other busy morning at Mumbai’s Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus.
The usual hustle bustle enveloped the railway station but on stepping in one realized that the day was going to be very different. On platform number 13, stationed in all its glory was the majestic Red Ribbon Express (RRE), calling out, celebrating life.
After its launch on 1 of December 2009- World AIDS Day - the Red Ribbon Express traveled from New Delhi’s Safdarjung station to villages and towns in Rajasthan, in Gujarat and in Maharashtra heading Mumbai end January, 2010.
The Red Ribbon Express aims to increase awareness about HIV and AIDS with special emphasis on services available and to decrease stigma and misconceptions about HIV and AIDS.
Students, working youth, auto wallaha ( rickshaw drivers), truckdrivers, dabbawalas (food salesman), housewives, married couples, social activists and many more gathered around the train to learn more about HIV and AIDS in an engaging, open and innovative manner.
“We pick up a lot of information from here and there but one doesn’t know what is correct and what isn’t. We had all heard about AIDS but today I really understood what it is about and how we can be safe from it”. Said Ashok, a taxi driver in Mumbai for the past 10 years.
While the ambiance on the platform was that of restlessness and eagerness, inside the train it was one of wonder, excitement, curiosity and learning.
Crowds constantly filled the exhibition coaches, playing games, watching films, reading displays, interacting with the volunteers and, through all this, gaining correct information about HIV and AIDS and services.
“I loved the games and the displays. I never realized that such a serious topic could be approached in such a colourful and entertaining manner” exclaimed Neelam, as she stepped out after a tour of the exhibition coaches.
“Now I want to go to the counseling coach; there are many questions that I have in my mind, which I think the counselors can help answer”.
There was no denying the enthusiasm of the youngsters present on platform 13 that day.
When asked what inspired them to visit, a Bachelors of Arts student Judith Thomas and Engineering student Parth Adhikari said that they had come out of curiosity and to see how a place that they frequented every day was being used to spread awareness about HIV and AIDS.
Prakash Patil, also a student, added that “even though I knew about HIV and AIDS before this, the exhibits here gave me so much more information and helped me understand things much better. This is a chance for all of us to test ourselves and stay safe from this disease”.
“I am very excited about being part of this”, said Supriya Janvalekar, a volunteer with the RRE. “Initially it was a very difficult topic for me to talk about but now I feel confident. This experience has completely changed my attitude towards HIV and AIDS”.
Mr. and Mrs Mishra, who had never before seen such an extensive display of HIV and AIDS related messages in all their years in Mumbai, were intrigued by the various exhibits and presentations they saw.
The middle-aged couple elaborated that such an effort was much needed and they were very pleased to see youngsters taking an initiative to visit the train.
As the day came to a close the crowds left satisfied with red ribbons pinned proudly to their shirts and determined smiles on their faces, reflecting the energy and intention of the Red Ribbon Express.
The extensive nature of the social mobilization effort of the Red Ribbon Express will reach all corners of the country as we move through the year.
As those who throng the train at every station carry their knowledge back to their homes and communities, the hope is that the Red Ribbon Express will urge them to adopt safe behaviours, to make informed choices, change their attitudes towards infected and affected people and to encourage them to stand united against HIV and AIDS.