This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by Youth Ki Awaaz. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

The Genius Way A Young Changemaker Is Smashing The Taboo Of HIV/AIDS In Tripura

More from Youth Ki Awaaz

UNV logoEditor's note: This post is a part of #Restless4Change, a campaign by UN Volunteers and Youth Ki Awaaz to highlight work done by UN Volunteers as part of the Nehru Yuva Kendra Sangathan (NYKS) and National Service Scheme (NSS), across 29 districts in India.

Posted by Jiaul Islam:

My journey as a UN volunteer started in December 2015 to help train young people in society- and community-building. I have been a part of several projects across Tripura since then – from building roads in flood-affected regions and building community halls in villages to holding counselling sessions in high schools. One programme that was of particular significance to me involved conducting HIV/AIDS awareness workshops across eight districts in the state.

The project came at a crucial time, because in recent years, the state has been failing to control the spread of HIV/AIDS, to the extent that the prevalence of the disease in Tripura has surpassed the national prevalence rate. Add to this societal taboos and misconceptions, and the situation is infinitely compounded.

The project was ambitious, but absolutely necessary. I was involved in everything from the strategy, the organisation and the execution of four workshops in tackling the issue. Funded by the Nehru Yuva Kendra Sangathan (NYKS), an autonomous organisation under the government that facilitates community work through youth volunteers, we began work on the project.

Structuring The Awareness Workshops

Not surprisingly, this wasn’t easy. Initially, our biggest challenge was to break the various prevalent misconceptions around HIV/AIDS, including convincing village communities that AIDS isn’t contagious. We weren’t just battling the spread of misinformation, but also a long-standing lack of knowledge, especially about health and hygiene.

In some places, we also saw rampant discrimination and rifts among the people who weren’t even willing to talk with or be in proximity of those with AIDS – let alone share food and water. These first obstacles we faced also turned out to be the hardest. Consequently, in the initial days, the enthusiasm and participation of workshop organisers was at its lowest.

Jiaul Islam, organiser of the AIDS workshop in Tripura

It was a slow process, but bit by bit, we worked on building a good rapport with the communities through our workshops. We would involve local influencers, such as doctors from district hospitals, local school headmasters and village heads to talk during the workshops. They would talk about different aspects of the disease including physiological and psychological effects of the disease, baseless taboos, testing, management and treatment.

Instead of going for a top-down lecture format, we would encourage discussions during the workshop, where villagers were free to bring up their doubts, experiences and problems. As a result, each workshop was different from the other, bringing out fresh and diverse perspectives, which turned out to be very helpful for our efforts in strategising. Further, we also organised different activities, such as quiz sessions, giving attendees small incentives to participate.

Gradually, we noted with satisfaction that there was a definite upward incline in the enthusiasm that people displayed for the workshops. The activities, especially the quiz, played a huge role in ensuring that more and more people in the different communities – at least 80 to 100 per workshop – participated in the discussions, adding their perspectives to the conversations.

Jiaul with a workshop participant

Even better were the feedback sessions we held after the workshops, where many villagers started to come and speak to us, telling us what they had learnt – and generally displaying a clear change in their mindsets and a higher level of awareness about the disease. I have even been asked for my suggestions on dealing with individual issues, or on how villagers can personally help people around them change their misconceptions!

Watch the full story of how Jiaul battled HIV related social taboos here:

The Way Forward

Overall, the workshops I organised with the team were very successful in effecting a positive change in the mindsets and attitudes of people. But the road ahead for us is fraught with other challenges.

One major roadblock is the drop in our funding. Our initiative hasn’t really been supported by the government. It’s through the funding by the Nehru Yuva Kendra Sangathan that we’ve been organising the workshops so far, at a paltry overall cost of ₹8,000 per workshop. Moreover, government representation during the workshops has also been lacking conspicuously.

Community members attending one of Jiaul’s workshops

Another issue is the lack of availability of resources across the state. We’re often faced with concerns about the lack of sufficient HIV-testing centers and medicines, during workshops. And truth be told, there’s not much we can do change this, without the government’s support in tightening policies.

These concerns have been so severe that we’ve decided against scaling our initiative to the national level, immediately. Instead, we are working hard to first improve the situation in Tripura. For instance, we’re contemplating taking our workshops to schools across the state and educating students about the issue. We’re also strategising on how we can put more pressure on the government to ensure more participation and action in future.

Personally, I believe such changes can only be brought about through unified efforts, especially by the younger generation. With more people joining different causes, I believe no issue is insurmountable – even if it is as challenging and multifaceted as Tripura’s AIDS crisis!

As told to Saptak Choudhury

You must be to comment.

More from Youth Ki Awaaz

Similar Posts

By Lipi Mehta

By Mukul Sharma

By Youth Ki Awaaz

Wondering what to write about?

Here are some topics to get you started

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

Sign up for the Youth Ki Awaaz Prime Ministerial Brief below