ThinkWise bus hits the streets of Sri Lanka
© UNICEF/2012/ROSA/Paba Deshapriya
“Let’s Talk” Think Wise roadshow, supported by UNICEF, ready to leave Colombo with its youth volunteers.
A huge black bus embossed with HIV messages, red ribbons and the faces of world cricketing stars is making a 114 site whistle stop tour through Sri Lanka as part of the HIV and cricket-focused awareness-raising campaign taking place around the world Twenty20 cricket tournament that runs from 18 October to 7 September in Sri Lanka.
An integral part of the joint UNAIDS, UNICEF and International Cricket Council (ICC) HIV partnership known as ‘Think Wise’, the bus has been on the road in Sri Lanka since late August, calling at 114 locations across the country, using the power of cricket to help reach out to thousands of young people on key AIDS issues, and inviting them to “Let’s talk” about HIV.
Serving as the face of the bus roadshow, Sri Lankan cricketing hero and Think Wise Champion Kumar Sangakkara’s message is featured on the side of the bus: “When you know the facts, you know what to do. Get the facts. Protect yourself against HIV.”.
As the bus pulls up at one of the designated stops, a vibrant group of young volunteers greet locals with music, dance and activities including street cricket and the HIV quiz – with tickets to the Twenty20 final as the prize—to help promote key HIV prevention and anti-discrimination messages.
“Education programmes through entertainment are really needed, as they reach out to young people, especially those most at risk,” says Think Wise roadshow volunteer Paba Deshapriya as she invites young people attending to “sign the wicket” to show support for the Sri Lankan team in its Twenty20 campaign while at the same time presenting them with a red ribbon and information about HIV services they can access in their area. “The roadshow interactions are showing us clearly that public knowledge of HIV is still extremely low –which means the bus and the response in Sri Lanka still has a long journey,” said roadshow team leader Hans Billimoria.
Under the broader umbrella of the Think Wise campaign, the bus roadshow is the result of a diverse national partnership in Sri Lanka between UNAIDS, UNICEF, Family Planning Association of Sri Lanka (FPA) and the National STI/AIDS Control Programme (NSACP), National Youth Council, community organization Grassrooted and local youth organizations. The initiative aims to not only give clear and up to date information on HIV, dispel AIDS-related myths and challenge social stigma against people living with HIV but also to link people with local HIV services including testing and counseling, treatment and support.
Despite a relatively low-level HIV epidemic in Sri Lanka, stigma and discrimination against people living with HIV and key affected communities is high and presents a major barrier to the HIV response. National surveys suggest that many people at higher risk of infection delay testing and coming forward for treatment because they are concerned by the implications of testing positive and confidentiality of status.
Dr Nimal Edirisinghe Director of the Sri Lankan national STI and AIDS Control Programme said, “This is an ideal opportunity as the campaign actively links young people to prevention and treatment services.”
“An AIDS-free generation is within our reach. That’s why through the Think Wise campaign we say: “Let’s talk – Get the Facts – Protect yourself” – encouraging open dialogue on sex, sexual diversity, risks and protection methods,” said David Bridger UNAIDS Country Coordinator for Sri Lanka.
As the bus continues its journey through Sri Lanka, additional HIV Think Wise activities will take place during the Twenty20 tournament including screenings of a Think Wise public service announcement at every match, the wearing of red ribbons by players in the semifinals and interaction events between star cricketers from the West Indies and South Africa teams and young people living with, affected by and working on HIV and their families.