“Only one girl has heard of a condom; other girls did not even know what a condom is,” the program officer of the NGO whispered me at the workshop. Twelve young women at the age from 15 to 27 were sitting in a circle. A training officer and a peer educator who were educated by the NGO were facilitating HIV/AIDS education there.
This workshop was for young people in a village named Basapur near Mysore, the city of Karnataka state. As you may know, India has the largest number of people living with HIV in the world. Karnataka is the one of the six states with the highest HIV prevalence. According to surveillance by Karnataka State AIDS Prevention Society, this state was estimated to have a 1.5 infection rate among adults in 2004. Spurred by this situation, UNICEF has launched a new project for prevention among adolescent youth through local NGOs.
I began my internship at the Programme Communication in UNICEF India Country Office in Delhi in October 2006. In the division regarding HIV/AIDS, we are trying to encourage behavior change in young people in a both wide and deep effort. In terms of wideness, we are producing a media campaign by using TV, radio, billboards, and folk media nationwide. In addition to this, in order to reach individuals deeply, we train both male and female peer educators through local NGOs and regularly give them opportunities to interact with people in their community to discuss HIV/AIDS. As an intern, I support the above-mentioned activities and also conduct research on IEC (Information, Education and Communication) materials.
At the NGO-sponsored workshop I mentioned, it was the first time for all female attendants in this village session to actually see and touch a condom. Usually, the villagers use pills and/or IUDs for contraception, but they do not take measures to prevent HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. Before HIV spreads widely in the village, it is an urgent task to reach young people who are sexually active to give them HIV related information.
In order to make the atmosphere comfortable at the workshop, the peer educator and training officer attempted to engage the women in light-hearted, fun activities. One of humorous activities was to make a balloon with a condom. This activity was implemented to remove the stigma and mystery about condoms, to help the girls feel more comfortable with condoms, and to demonstrate the strength of a condom. At the beginning of the workshop, the women seemed to be ashamed to handle it. However, the strategy by the educators appeared successful because the women were smiling and discussed HIV and other related issues naturally.
It is difficult to educate people about HIV/AIDS without an understanding of their cultural context since this issue is strongly related to sex. Therefore, peer educators can share a deep understanding for local culture and can act a as a bridge necessary for HIV/AIDS education between UNICEF and indigenous people.
This experience was my first field visit as an intern. At every place where I visited, staffs at the NGOs and peer educators have dedicated themselves to saving individuals from HIV infection. I will also never forget the NGO staff’s, peer educators’ and local people’s, appreciation for UNICEF’s commitment and belief in UNICEF’s ability to make a difference.
I have seen people who work diligently for its prevention, and thus, I have strongly felt that there is a hope. Someday in the near future as a communication officer, I am hopeful that I will join the “Team UNICEF,” that is bound with strong ties of cooperation.