Peer Educators attending the Convention in Surat on 16th May 2007
By Gurinder Gulati
“I had not heard of “HIV/AIDS”, till the time I attended a training programme organized by UNICEF to train Peer Educators”, said Ashok Bhai, one of the 14,000 Peer Educators trained by UNICEF to create awareness among the most vulnerable young people about safe sex behaviour and prevention of HIV/AIDS.
Gujarat, well known for its rapid economic development, ranks among the “medium prevalence” states in India with regard to its status of HIV/AIDS. If timely intervention is not made to educate young people, the day is not far off when the state will be faced with a grim situation. Keeping this in mind, it was in May 2006, when UNICEF Gujarat joined hands with the Health department as well as its NGO partners to establish a cadre of Peer Educators to educate young people about safe sex behaviour and prevention of HIV/AIDS in the three most vulnerable districts of Vadodara, Surat and Valsad. Today, Gujarat can boast of a formidable force of 14,000 plus Peer Educators, who are continuously disseminating messages among youth on prevention of HIV/AIDS in remote villages of the three districts. They are also helping to bust myths prevailing in society about HIV/AIDS.
In Gujarat, 14,000 young Peer Educators have been trained by UNICEF to educate most vulnerable young people about safe sex behaviour and how to prevent themselves from HIV/AIDS
To commemorate the completion of one year of the HIV/AIDS campaign in Gujarat, UNICEF organized a convention of peer educators in all the three districts. The main aim of the convention was to provide a platform to the peer educators to come together and share their experiences and learn from each other about the innovative ways of spreading awareness among youth. The convention also served as an event to renew their commitment to build a healthy environment in the society. Lot of enthusiasm could be seen on the face of peer educators, who had come in large numbers all the way from their villages to attend the one day convention.
Peer Educators from Surat organizing a stage show on HIV/AIDS prevention
A striking difference was observed in the participation of female peer educators, who outnumbered their male counterparts. Self awareness, self esteem, which were part of the training programme, could be witnessed in reality among a number of participants at the convention. With pride said Julekhaben of Kathor village, “We were locked behind the four walls of our house. Because of this programme, we have now attained freedom and not only we can do something for the society, in the process we are also making a name for ourselves”.
Narrating their experience about the benefits of training, one of the peer educators remarked, “We had not seen HIV positive people earlier. It was only during the training that we could meet them and now we feel that we should have a positive attitude towards them. The training has given us a lot of confidence and helped in building leadership qualities as well”.
A variety of activities like cultural programmes, role plays, exhibitions, etc. were organized to show case the work done by Peer Educators from different areas.
“As we were unemployed, nobody ever paid attention towards us. Having acquired the training as HIV/AIDS Peer Educator, we now feel important” – a Peer Educator
Speaking in one of the Peer Educator Conventions in Vadodara, Mr Ashok Bhatt, Health Minister, Gujarat, appreciated the pioneering work being done by UNICEF and its NGO partners and thanked them for having created such a valuable resource in fighting the disease.
He enjoyed listening to the peer educators’ experiences and commended their efforts in protecting the lives of young people in the state. The Health Minister also appealed to the peer educators to involve themselves in other programmes of the Government and use their expertise and talent to mobilize the community for adopting better caring practices. Acting instantly on the appeal of Health Minister, 300 peer educators promptly registered themselves for extending support in the forthcoming Pulse Polio Campaign on 20th May.
Dr Yogendra Mathur, State Representative, UNICEF Gujarat, described the 14,000 plus Peer Educators as “a force to reckon with”. He hoped that this newly found resource will not only help in building a safer world for the youth of Vadodara, Surat and Valsad, but will also work as catalysts for social change in the society.