My experience as a YUVA STAR
As a social entrepreneur, I have always looked for opportunities that can promote attention to a cause. When you are dealing with the rural populace though, working that out becomes slightly testy, because of their sparse exposure to current world information and its espousing level of confidence. They view anything new with either fear or awe or even reticence. So talking to them about something like HIV or AIDS would definitely pose a remarkable challenge.
But thanks to BBC World Service Trust for giving me an amazing opportunity, we could comprehensively create awareness on the situation of HIV and AIDS in Shillong Meghalaya (as well as the rest of the Northeast). In 2006, I was selected and featured as a Yuva Star (Young Achiever) for the BBC World Service Trust’s award-winning production called ‘Haath Se Haath Milaa’ (‘Let’s Join Hands’), India’s largest HIV/AIDS awareness mass media campaign that reach over 50 million viewers. The show was telecast on May 18 and launched on June 7, 2006, in Mumbai with Bollywood stars.
The TV show
It was a weekly, youth-focused, reality television show that was telecast on Doordarshan. The three-episode show would cover my story as a Shillong-based social entrepreneur, spreading awareness about AIDS in the Northeast. Bollywood actor Fardeen Khan came and collaborated with us in spreading awareness about HIV/AIDS by coming to Shillong and making his appearance at a rock show that I would put together, a fun challenge he had given me to lure him to Shillong.
Within the confines of the script, we rendered a meaningful production that highlighted the dangers of HIV/AIDS, which was able to get a strong response from the youth. The production team followed us along with the Anchor Nasirr Khan – Impulse NGO Network team and few local youths – on our weekly trek up the beautiful hills of Meghalaya, where we bonded over a shared adventure and discussed the issues and prevention of HIV/AIDS under an open sky. The team also visited a local school to see our Magic Box experiment where we leave an empty box in the school grounds, encouraging students to post anonymous questions about HIV/AIDS into the box, which we answer in class later. Besides that, the show covered Impulse’s NGO Network HIV/AIDS awareness meeting with the police and observed how it helps them see the socioeconomic spectrum of the problem. I also had a chance to show the production team around, as they enjoyed some local sightseeing.
The cherry on top was, however, the visit of Fardeen Khan, who was more than willing to be a part of the campaign. My khublei (thanks) to him for taking the opportunity to help us for a noble cause! Apart from visiting me at home, he accompanied me to a paan shop – one of our select outlets in Shillong, where free condoms are given out to encourage HIV prevention through safe sex. Fardeen interacted with the shop owner and even had a paan from him. Such was the impact of his star presence that 30 paan shop owners joined our condom distribution programme overnight; even if it was to get a chance at a lucky encounter in future like their chosen brother. To think that it had taken me a whole year to establish 97 such outlets! It goes without saying that the rock show amassed a huge audience too. Fardeen’s presence amidst the cheering fans, taking questions and talking to them about HIV/AIDS and its prevention, ensured that our effort could reach out to a lot of people. The team also made a moving music video, which covered a few HIV positive surviours who freely shared their experience on TV.
Media and mass attention
There was ample coverage in print and electronic media about the show and the work done by Impulse NGO Network. I even received a host of citizens’ reactions. Since the telecast of the show, I had been getting phone calls from young people who shared with me their belief that HIV/AIDS should be more candidly spoken about. That is just the attitude we were looking for.
I was also getting an overwhelming response from the likes of Asian Women Feature Service as well. Some, like CNN/IBN’s Iram Mirza and NDTV, personally came down to Shillong for further research and investigation; inspired by Marie Claire journalist and photographer Christine Johnson and Cecile Allegro, from France. Others, like Usha Bhasin, Deputy Director General, Doordarshan (New Delhi), showed a keen interest in getting an exclusive coverage of the HIV/AIDS scenario in the Northeast, apart from covering the work done by Impulse NGO Network.
The campaign further facilitated our networking with interesting people like Prabha Sati, Associate Director, Centre for Global Health Research (CGHR); Rochita Talukdar, Communication & Advocacy Manager, Project Management Office – Department For International Development (PMO-DFID), who further linked me to Neelima Mathur, Project Manager, MEDIAIDS; Fiona Lloyd, a Zimbabwean journalist and media trainer; Bryan Pearson, Deputy Director, AFP and Chief Editor, South Asia, – all of whom wanted to do stories on HIV and AIDS in the Northeast. Bryan’s reports and findings later appeared in eight international newspapers, a remarkable feat for Impulse NGO Network and its cause.
It was deeply satisfying to know that the message had spread out to not just urban but also some pockets of the rural areas. Apart from creating awareness among the student communities, the show even alerted sex workers, who suffer the dangers of HIV and AIDS, the most. Many youths were so enthralled by the concert that they even came up with the idea of holding regular school performances and concerts to spread the word, probably hoping to involve film stars like Fardeen Khan.
What was most touching though, was that Impulse’s NGO Network own young volunteers – who had worked on spreading the word about HIV/AIDS – called back, reflecting on their experiences and vowing to continue their work.
‘Haath Se Haath Milaa’ will always be close to my heart. It not only initiated a much-need interaction among the masses but also gave me an inspiring breakthrough, to have a broader outlook of my work. It made me realise what a Yuva Star can and must do.