After its launch on 1 December 2009, Red Ribbon Express traveled from New Delhi station to villages and towns in Rajasthan and Gujarat to stop in Maharashtra. (A group of school children sit in audience during the opening day celebrations).
BEDAG, Maharashtra, 25 February 2010 – The Red Ribbon Club from Bedag was amongst the hundreds of groups that thronged the audio visual exhibits inside the Red RibbonExpress stationed at Miraj in Sangli district, forty kilometers from Bedad village in Maharasthra.
After its launch on the 1 December 2009 - World AIDS Day - the Red Ribbon Express traveled from New Delhi’s Safdarjung station to villages and towns in Rajasthan and Gujarat to stop in Sangli district in Maharashtra from the 28 to 30 January 2010.
Young people were seen avidly leafing through literature and watching the myriad street theater performances avidly near the booths lined up along the train platform.
The afternoon air seemed charged with a celebratory mood. A volunteer with Veshya Anyay Mukti Parishad (VAMP), a local NGO working to protect the rights of female sex workers and homosexuals, was showing visitors the correct use of a condom. Shy at first, many young people slowly began asking questions.
Another volunteer drew the ribbon symbol for HIV awareness on girls’ palms with the traditional mehendi dye.
“The arrival of the Red Ribbon Express has helped me to increase my knowledge about HIV and its prevention,” said Ashok Ghodake,President of the Red Ribbon Club in Bedag.
“I was one of the few from my club who visited the train last year. My experiences encouraged other club members to visit the train this year,” adds the twenty-year old Ashok.
Ashok Ghodake along with 10 other members of the Red Ribbon Club underwent an intense five day training programme to increase their understanding of HIV and its prevention at the Red Ribbon Express this year.
The volunteers went back to their village and began sensitization meetings with young people and village gatekeepers. The village elders, buoyed by the group’s enthusiasm and commitment, lent them a room to hold their meetings.
The village walls were plastered with posters bearing messages on HIV awareness and ways to avoid stigma and discrimination for people living with HIV/AIDS. This bears testimony to the effects that the Red Ribbon Express is having on young people’s lives across India’s hinterland.
“We are proud of the youth in the village for setting a good example” said a village elder.
“Our sensitization drives are using games and indigenous arts to inspire the local community to learn more about HIV. To date, our programmes have included a Rangoli (the art of traditional Indian painting with dry colors) competition and a local elocution competition focusing on health and HIV,” says Ashok.
“We raised money for prizes by canvassing the village for donations which attracted a wide range of participants,” he adds.
The visit to the Red Ribbon Express is helping young people like Ashok to realise their lifelong goal of becoming teachers.
“Our teachers at the village school are usually hesitant to discuss the issue of unprotected sex and the ways in which to prevent HIV due to their inhibitions. But if young people are made aware, we can protect ourselves and our families,” he says.