School children in Andhra Pradesh launch UNICEF assisted campaign of self-expression on HIV /AIDS
By Radhika Srivastava and Vikas Verma
August 2005 - In Southern India’s state of Andhra Pradesh, with one-tenth of the country’s HIV positive people, a vigorous campaign was recently launched to get children to express themselves freely on HIV/AIDS and related subjects. The objective was to get them to break the taboo on talking about safe sex.
With an HIV prevalence rate of about 2.25 per cent, Andhra Pradesh clearly has something to worry about. UNICEF has been a partner with the state government that has taken many positive measures in the past few years to curb the spread of HIV/AIDS.
Deepa, a student from Medak district, for instance, made a model with plastic toy trucks and a thermocol highway that explains the transmission of the virus among truck drivers, a known high-risk group. She also displayed various methods used to test HIV and objects that could potentially transmit the diseases such as barber’s blades, syringes, shaving blades, etc. As she explained her “display” to a group of students from another school, she said, “I want to put this up at village fairs and exhibitions. I want to tell people about HIV.” Her face shone with earnestness as she spoke.
The event began first at the divisional level and moved to the districts before reaching the state capital city of Hyderabad. This programme was a special feature of the state-wide initiative called AASHA (Aids Awareness and Sustained Holistic Action) launched by the government in July.
In a state where people are known to shy away from discussing HIV/AIDS, the campaign has made the atmosphere lighter for discussion. The Triveni High School in Hyderabad played host to students from across the state who converged in the capital to participate in different competitions, all related to HIV/AIDS.
As the campaign and children’s competitions picked up pace, confident and smiling young faces emerged from classrooms ready to compete with and outshine students from other schools. They were all banking on their understanding of HIV/AIDS to do so. Inside the school auditorium, several teams sat on the stage answering difficult questions posed by the quiz master. Questions ranged from basics such as “do mosquitoes transmit HIV?” to complex ones on anti-retroviral drugs. Children answered these with ease and came out with flying colours.
Teachers, too, from across the state had gathered to display their teaching material on HIV/AIDS. Among the most innovative teachers was C. Syam Kumar from East Godavari, a district known to be among the hardest hit in the state. He used simple “tricks” to explain the subject. He ran a lit cigarette-lighter through a cotton handkerchief that did not burn. “This is how HIV can spread silently through our community and we would not even know,” he said. His audiences were mesmerized.
Kumar said he had held his display in 100 villages in the district. “Since I use some tricks, my shows are very popular. After the shows I always have people asking me more about HIV/AIDS,” he said. The one-man team has been campaigning for HIV/AIDS in the district.
Even at the host school, Kumar’s table was popular with students and teachers alike who flocked around asking him to show his tricks. His audience were not just children but also officials as senior as the Director of the School Council for Education Research and Training, K. Anand Kishore who applauded along with the others. “When we started this programme a month ago, we were not sure how it would be perceived since there was the assumption that parents did not want their children to talk of HIV/AIDS. But the response was mind-blowing. There was tremendous enthusiasm from parents and students and we are determined to hold many more similar events in the future,” said Mr. Kishore.
If the enthusiasm of children, teachers and officials is anything to go by, the HIV awareness graph in the state is clearly set to a rapid climb.