Jharkhand girls campaign for safe sex

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By Girija Shankar Ojha

Murkum (Jharkhand), Apr 2 : In an effort to spread awareness on safe sex and how to avoid sexually transmitted diseases, a group of girls have undertaken a campaign to impart knowledge on safe sex amongst their fellow villagers in Maoist affected areas of Jharkhand.

These girls have been selected by the Tata Steel Family Initiatives Foundation (TSFIF), a venture of Tata Steel, under a pilot project, to spread awareness on sex, reproduction and sexually transmitted diseases amongst villagers.

In the first phase of the project christened YARS, (Youth Access to Reproductive Health Services of India), these girls were selected from amongst 40 villages as youth volunteers, and were imparted training in a workshop on these issues.

After being trained to impart knowledge, the girls have now embarked on a door-to-door campaign in villages in and around their own.

"The aim of starting this project was to educate youth in the villages on reproduction and safe sex and then train them to impart knowledge on HIV/AIDS to others in the village," said Dileet Kaisaltan, Manager, TSFIF.

At the onset of the project, these girls faced a lot of opposition from the villagers, especially males, who prevented them from conducting workshops in the village.

Overcoming initial opposition and embarrassment in a social set up, where sex is considered taboo, a subject usually kept under wraps, these girls have come out in the open to speak and impart knowledge on sex.

"Initially, we felt embarrassed while providing information to others on all these topics. But after being trained, we have overcome the diffidence and reluctance to talk. Now, we can impart knowledge to anybody, even the village elders," said Pano Hembram, a volunteer.

The villagers are now more forthcoming and feel that these girls are doing a good job by imparting them knowledge on issues like, family planning and sexually transmitted diseases.These girls are doing a good job by imparting knowledge on safe sex to us. Earlier, we knew nothing about all these subjects, but now thanks to them, we are much more knowledgeable," said Seema Bhardi, a villager.

The initiative of these girls is commendable, particularly in view of the fact that in India, AIDS has acquired endemic proportions -- with more than 2.5 million people thought to be afflicted with the deadly HIV/AIDS virus -- and putting millions of lives at risk.

According to the latest UN figures on AIDS, the global prevalence of HIV/AIDS has levelled off in part due to the effective HIV programs. Still, in 2007 there were 33.2 million people infected with the human immunodeficiency virus-- about 30.8 million adults and 2.5 million children.

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