Young agents of change
RED RIBBON CLUB members are proving to be trailblazers in an attempt to arrest the AIDS epidemic, says S.S.KAVITHA
Photos: Special Arrangement
Torchbearers Marching towards a goal
These youths can motivate their counterparts, mobilise a few thousand rupees in a swish and donate for the welfare of an unknown HIV positive new born child. Or they can also stop their friend from divorcing morals. “To err is human but our dut
y is never allow youths to err,” declares B. Manoj Kumar, II year BBA student of Madurai Kamaraj University College.
“Give me hundred youths, I will change the world” – These words of Swami Vivekananda, perhaps, hold good for the members of the Red Ribbon Club (RRC), who are silently making a revolution by reaching out to youths educating them about the killer virus Human Immuno Deficiency virus and Acquired Immuno Deficiency Syndrome and keeping them on track. Their fight is also against the prevailing stigma and discrimination against people living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHA).
“Working with RRCs is an unforgettable and moving experience as we help people to regain their lost hope besides gaining self-confidence,” adds B. Manoj Kumar.
On an average, trailblazers like Manoj Kumar spend a considerable time speaking on HIV/AIDS and cracking myths related to the disease, at least to five persons a week.
He also discusses and analyses with friends how one infected person can affect hundreds of people. In the last two years, Manoj Kumar has helped four AIDS patients to get admitted to homes run by NGOs.
“Lack of awareness, wrong information and peer pressure misleads the youths. We try to present facts and figures learnt from RRC programmes endorsed by real-life experiences gathered from PLWHA that forces them to give a thought to their own problem and the issue in general,” he says.
Uma Maheswari, a final year B.Com student of Madurai Institute of Social Sciences College says: “I am very happy to see so many girls coming into the fold of RRC. It is pathetic that women get infected due to lack of access to information about health and the knowledge to protect themselves from the infection. I want to be a person who can carry this information to those who need and RRC is helping me to realise my dreams to be the messenger.”
“The current generation has not seen an AIDS-free world. As a group they are especially vulnerable to contracting and transmitting the disease. There are 10 million young people currently living with HIV/AIDS in the world. Of this, 6.2 million live in sub-Saharan Africa and 2.2 million in Asia. At the same time, youth who are empowered to make informed choices have greater potential and opportunity to drastically reduce the number of new infections,” asserts M. Ganesh Kumar, Consultant for Youth Affairs, Tamil Nadu State AIDS Control Society (TANSACS). Quoting National AIDS Control Organisation sources, he says that in India 30 percent of HIV infections are within the age group of 15-24 years.
RRC Programme is a voluntary on-campus intervention in colleges aimed at preventing HIV among youth. Spearheaded by TANSACS, this programme is duly supported by the Department of Higher Education and Department of Technical Education with the technical assistance from Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, demonstrating the importance of inter-sector collaboration to address the issue of HIV /AIDS.
“RRCs empower students in the age group of 17-25, by giving them information and life-skills to protect themselves from HIV/ AIDS and changing the most active among them into peer educators,” he says.
“There is neither social platform nor space in academics for youth to address the psycho-social needs of adolescents on issues related to gender, sex and sexuality. This situation makes them vulnerable to inadequate and inaccurate information and finally a prey to the virus,” he adds.
With the aim of reducing new HIV infection among youth through life skills education and creating awareness on sex, sexuality and HIV/AIDS and induce among youth the spirit to help and support PLWHAs, RRCs was launched in 2005 in Tamil Nadu. The club also motivates youth to work towards reducing stigma and discrimination against People living with HIV/AIDS besides motivating them to build their capacity as peer educators.
Apart from this, RRCs ensures and encourages safe blood transfusion through voluntary blood donation, says Mr. Ganesh Kumar and adds that Tamil Nadu stands third in voluntary blood donation.
A. Palanichamy, RRC District Manager, TANSACS, says: In Madurai district last academic year, 283 RRC programs have been conducted in 48 colleges with 38,404 students. As many as 18 blood donation camps were conducted in 18 colleges and 1,499 blood units donated by RRC volunteers.
“The unique feature of this campaign is direct interaction with people where they are exposed to real-life situations,” he says.
“We have the power to put an end to this epidemic through education and we can help ease the pain it causes by reaching out to the victims through services,” says Manoj Kumar.
“There is a way out there and it is not far from us. Let us stick on to our proud culture, moral values and ethics, we can definitely safeguard our society from the AIDS pandemic” says Sheik Faizal Saith.
B.V. Babu, a PLWHA and president of the Madurai Network of Positive People, pins hope on RRC volunteers that they are sure to bring in a change in attitude that will put an end to the existing stigma and discrimination against people living with HIV”.
Whenever and wherever possible, RRCs involve themselves in activities to create awareness.
Recently, volunteers of MISS took out a rally marking the International Youth Day on August 12.
“We are awake and we will not stop till the goal is reached,” says Manoj Kumar with conviction.
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