REACH OUT

Saturday, November 19th, 2011

There still is a serious controversy about the number of HIV affected people in India. Whether India has the highest or is the second highest in the world is of little interest to us. That India is right at the top and that the youths suffer most is a serious matter of concern. According to statistics, 40% of those affected are below 35 years. 86% of the cases are transmitted through sex, and 67% is urban based. India’s 51% population is under 24 years of age.

The newspapers screamed. “India had the highest number of HIV infected”. And yet, the youths were most neglected. In spite of the so called sex education in schools, neither the teachers nor the parents were willing to discuss sex. The result is inevitable. These youths rely on the ‘hearsay’ – on a peer to peer level.

With that in mind, Kolkata Sukriti Foundation devised a novel programme. It targeted 100 schools in and around the city of Kolkata. It wanted to address the secondary school students and make them aware of the threat of HIV. The project badly needed funds.

Kolkata Sukriti Foundation approached Lions Clubs International District 322B1. With Lions Clubs spreading around the world and with its social commitments, Sukriti Foundation thought rightly that Lions would come up with help. Lions Clubs International District 322B1 joined hands. None less than Lion Mahendra Amarasuriya, the President then launched “Reach Out” at the Hotel Hindusthan International in Kolkata.

The next hurdle was to be crossed. Selecting the right people, who can visit the schools and address the students. After much effort, a select group was taken through a rigorous training. After all, they had to know the problems and they had to be trained enough to answer questions.

In the very first workshop to select and train the trainers, for the first time, HIV +ves, commercial sex workers, doctors from the West Bengal State Aids and senior representatives of the Lions Clubs International interacted and selected the core group of youngsters. They were to become the backbone to raise the awareness level in various schools. More workshops followed and experts from the West Bengal State AIDS Prevention & Control Society, National Institute for Behavioural Sciences, eminent social workers like Dr. Samiran Panda, Consultant to UN AIDs, NACO and UNODC took intensive and extensive classes – and motivated them enough to reachout to the school students in and around Kolkata.

While the peer groups were being trained, a special video film was made in which eminent actor and celebrity Sabyasachi Chakraborty explained the concept of this project. The audio visual programme not only featured Sabyasachi Chakraborty but also featured similar programmes done around the world – particularly in South Africa.

Armed with this audio visual presentation and wearing specially designed T-shirts and caps and displaying the Lions logo even on the projection screen, the team reached out to the youths at schools.

It was not an easy task to convince the school authorities. Unfortunately, many a school denied direct access to the students and it took a lot of persuasion to convince the authorities about the need for such a presentation. What was to be completed within a specific time, almost went beyond reach.

There are instances when schools denied access because HIV or condoms were taboos. These “dirty” words were not be uttered in schools. There were instances when half way through the presentation, the team was asked to pack up and leave. Interestingly, the school authorities as well as parents thought that these youths were well aware and did not need any extra warnings. Little did they know or were aware that many students confessed to us that they frequented brothels and many of them did not take any protection.

We received more than 100 stories which were written by students to make their friends aware of the threat of HIV.

We were particularly happy when we were allowed to face the students in some Urdu speaking schools where girls still wore veils. It is heartening to note that the maximum number of stories came from such schools.

The stories were read out to a panel of Jury and they selected the best 10. These 10 stories were then read out on television by an elocution specialist, Shri Satinath Mukhopadhyay. The programme of one hour duration was telecast seven times. At the end of it, viewers were asked to send in their opinions. Based on the viewers’ opinion, the top 3 stories were converted to television programmes of 10 minutes each.

At a touching function on the 28th of September at the Birla Sabhagar, the three final films were screened and a panel of twenty eminent jury members consisting of celebrities, littérateurs, poets, artists, television personalities, retired Chief Justice of High Court and others selected the best story and the best directed film.

The 10 minute film entitled “Clara My Little Angel” written by Shreyasi Halder of Hartley’s High School was adjudged the best story. Her story was about a little girl child Clara who had contacted HIV through the untested blood that had to be transfused to her mother before her birth in an emergency. One day, Clara notices another college going girl trying to commit suicide, because of family problems. Little Clara saves her and they become friends. But at the end of the film, Clara herself dies. Her death jolted the audience and many in the audience were seen in tears.

The second prize for the best story went to Zia Taufeer, a Class X student of Howrah Hut High Madrasa. In Zia’s story, the protagonist, a bright student from the rural corner of Bengal, returns to his village after a stint in the city. The lonely life in the city had its ill effects on the boy who had succumbed to the charms of a prostitute. His fiancée in the village, even after knowing that he was HIV affected, decides not to leave him and to dedicate her life to make people aware.

The third best story was by Tushar Saha, a Class XI student of Behala High School. The story deals with the contamination that comes through the use of used syringe for taking drugs.

Kolkata Sukriti Foundation and Lions Clubs International District 322B1 have reasons to feel happy and proud. After all, this was the first time that such a project was handled in India. It was the first time that students effectively communicated on a peer to peer level. It again will be the first time that such stories will be telecast on various TV channels reaching across millions. We request you to watch these films too.


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