Teachers' Awards for HIV education in Maharashtra
Till 29th April 2006, Mangal Lakhapati was one amongst 2,324 teachers in the Maharashtra state nominated for an award for effectively conducting the School Adolescent Life Skills Education Programme. In a much-awaited moment Mangal’s name was announced as the best teacher for the prestigious award. With tears in her eyes, Mangal walked up to the stage to receive her trophy, amidst applause and cheers from the audience.
Mangal Lakhapati was selected as one of the nodal teachers for her school to implement the School Adolescent Life Skills Education Programme (SALSEP), which emphasizes not only sharing information but also helping students to shape their ideas and attitudes on issues underlying HIV/AIDS.
This collaborative initiative led by the Maharashtra State Education Department and supported by the State Health Department, Maharashtra State AIDS Control Society, Mumbai Districts AIDS Control Society and UNICEF has come a long way since its inception in 1993. Launched in June 2004 in the state, SALSEP reaches out to students in class 9 and class 11 in all schools - a total of 20,223 schools - across the state. Maharashtra has one of the highest prevalence rates for HIV/AIDS in India. Almost one-fourth - 23% of the total affected people in India reside in the state. The fact that newer infections are occurring more amongst women and youth calls for early interventions like SALSEP.
Everyone at the award ceremony witnessed Mangal’s interest and commitment to her work. A personal experience in her wider family motivated her to take her work in HIV/AIDS education seriously. One of the girls in her family was married to an HIV positive boy. The boy had hidden this fact from his wife. Almost a year after their marriage when the truth came out, the woman had already contracted the virus. After witnessing the painful experience closely, Mangal could identify with the issues involved and was willing to work for HIV awareness. She showed courage to overcome stigma of disclosure and turned her personal experience into a learning lesson for others. Mangal Lakhapati said: “one must fight against HIV and not against those affected by it.”
This is the first year of the Teacher’s Award, which aims to infuse motivation and innovation in teachers’ efforts to build students’ understanding on HIV related issues. “The award is a token of recognition for the teacher’s work in the fight against HIV/AIDS. After all, they play a vital role in the successful implementation of SALSEP”, explained Sanjana Bhardwaj, HIV/AIDS Officer from UNICEF Office in Mumbai.
In the award ceremony, three best teachers from each district of Maharashtra were awarded certificates - a total of 121 teachers. Thereafter 12 teachers were felicitated as the best with Mangal Lakhapati ranking the top.
The excitement and happiness in the award function clearly indicated that the teachers welcome the concept. As expressed by some of them “the award not only gives recognition to our genuine efforts but also provides motivation to bring out the best in us.”