Following are articles written on and by peer educators from Tamil Nadu. Peer educators are trained by UNICEF and its partners to spread information on life skills and increase knowledge of young people to empower them to say ‘no’ to negative peer pressure and use the skills to protect themselves from HIV infections.
Bhuvana is a lively girl aged about 18 in the village of Alankuppam. When we conducted the classes for the girls, she watched in rapt attention. There was a sparkle in her eyes as she understood the issue of HIV/AIDS and a sense of wonder came over her as she learned facts about body organs and growing up. For any group work or need for volunteers, invariably Bhuvana was the one to come forward first. Her participation was lively and was an encouragement to any trainer.
When we decided, therefore, to rope in the Peer Educators, she was obviously the first choice. The choice was not only Bhuvana's family wanted to know with what authority we were teaching that young girl about “all those filthy matters” like sex, HIV and AIDS etc.due to her participation, but also due to the influence she had over the others- she commanded their respect. Even in the peer educators training, the first session she attended she was outstanding. But for the second session, she did not turn up. We were naturally got worried and decided to investigate and went to her house. There we found her sitting in a corner doing some household chores. When we tried to talk to her, we were met with a hostile mother and two brothers. We tried to explain but they would not have anything to do with us “bad people”.
At the end, we went to the village leader and told him, about the matter. The village headman himself was actually reluctant in the beginning, but when we explained about the importance of adolescence education and the need for girl’s empowerment, he had agreed and also inaugurated the session.
The head also met Bhuvana. When we again went to their house, with the village headman, they became angrier and tried to complain to the leader. But the chief asked them to shut up and first listen to what we had to say.
Slowly but with conviction and firmness, we explained about UNICEF, ARM (NGO) and its activities, the present HIV/AIDS scenario in India and Tamil Nadu and Villupuram. The need to protect oneself, HIV is not a “bad” disease, the need to show love and affection to the PLHA etc. The knowledge slowly sunk in. The brothers relaxed. The mother started to prepare tea. Seeing that we have their attention, we proceeded. We explained why the scientific knowledge about body changes and growing up is important to their daughter/ sister. How the shield of knowledge would help her to protect her self in life.
Tea arrived. The mother smiled. The two brothers spoke to us. They said that Bhuvana would not be able to go to other villages. We said that she would not be asked to go to other villages and we would take care of her. We also explained about NGO work, the nobility of the work and the opportunities she might have in that sector later on. They understood and shook our hands, apologetically.
Bhuvana jumped up in joy. A Peer Educator was born. She might have been lost, but due to the efforts of the village leader, facilitators and others she was brought into the Peer Educators fold.