Cultural teams of Red Ribbon Express fan out in Gujarat villages to spread awareness about HIV/AIDS
Valsad, Gujarat, 12 September 2008: As soon as the Red Ribbon Express (RRE) arrived in Gujarat on 11 September, six teams of folk artists from the youth group Nehru Yuva Kendra Sangathan (NYKS) dressed in colorful traditional attire, were flagged off in a caravan by the Gujarat Minister of Agriculture to spread awareness about HIV and AIDS in the nearby villages.
In Umarsadi Desaivad village a warm welcome awaited the cultural team. Special arrangements had been made by the villagers and the high school authorities. The Sarpanch (village head) and other prominent people including a large number of women from the village were present on the occasion. After the traditional welcome by the school children, the folk artistes gave performances on prevention of HIV and AIDS and safe behaviour practices. “I welcome this programme and am thankful to the authorities for organizing it in our village. It is very important to educate people in rural areas, particularly the youth who are the most vulnerable, about this dreaded disease and how they can protect themselves”, said Shrish Bhai, the village Sarpanch.
“It is for the first time in my tenure of 15 years as the village Sarpanch that this kind of programme has been organized to spread awareness about HIV/AIDS. It is very important as most people living in interior villages are completely ignorant and people who do not know are the most vulnerable” said Dharmesh Bhai, Sarpanch of Sandhpur village in Valsad district.
Similar sentiments were echoed by Sarpanches and other prominent people in different villages as they believed that the time had come to educate people, particularly the youth, about adopting safe sex behaviour.
In Hanuman Baagah village, Jagdish Bhai, Sarpanch narrated a story of his sister-in-law and her husband who died of AIDS. “Her husband was a fisherman who lived most of the time in Mumbai and came to the village once in a while. His wife died first at the age of 35 and he died a year later. According to doctors, both of them died of AIDS. They left behind a minor child who has been adopted by us and we are educating him.” He emphasizes “It is very important to educate people about HIV and AIDS and how they can protect themselves. I wish such awareness programmes were organized more frequently.”
Traditional folk media has always been one of the most popular means of communication to bring about behaviour change among rural people. As part of the RRE initiative - a multi-sectoral, multi-media national campaign to spread awareness about HIV and AIDS across the country, folk artistes have been roped in for support in rural areas through folk art in local dialect. In Gujarat, this responsibility has been assigned to the NYKS. Six outreach teams of folk artistes will cover 864 villages in 14 districts. After the performance, these teams will facilitate formation of Red Ribbon Clubs at village level for spreading awareness on a sustained basis.
Expressing his views on the usefulness of the campaign, Dr. Mahendra Shinde, Block Health Officer, Pardi, who was accompanying the NYKS team, said “these programmes will certainly help in allaying fears of the people and changing their attitude towards HIV/AIDS”.
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