HIV and AIDS Education in India
In July of 2012, Doerthe Braun traveled to the Pune district of Maharashtra to witness Plan's HIV and AIDS project work first-hand. Upon her return from the field, she has sent us the following account of her trip:
On Tuesday morning, I was picked up by member of the Plan team and during our drive to the village we discussed Plan’s AIDS and HIV project work.
The goal of this project is to educate families at home and children in school about AIDS: what it is, how one becomes infected, and how treatment may be obtained. Plan encourages adults to take HIV tests. It’s very important to Plan that once a woman is expecting that both she and her spouse obtain these tests. If there is a case of HIV in the village, Plan USA makes sure that proper treatment and nutrition is received.
At our first stop, I met the Indian women who were working and Plan volunteers. I was welcomed with Indian traditions. One of these traditions included the presention of gifts: flowers, rice, a coconut, and a new scarf. Each woman also gave me a spoonful of sugar which was meant to aid me in providing a sweet speech. Even if all of these traditions were very new to me, their warm-hearted welcoming didn’t need any translation.
I was very impressed by Plan's commitment to this project. Through their training and education, husbands have begun to realize that they play a huge role in bringing AIDS into their families. They’ve agreed to get tested and to begin taking on the responsibility of caring for their households. In the past, once a woman was diagnosed with HIV, she was considered a “bad woman” and was abandoned by her husband. Seeing the husband now care for his family after his wife has been diagnosed, shows that this attitude is changing.
At our meeting, I met a 9 year-old boy and his Grandmother. The boy’s mother had passed away from the disease. Thanks to the treatment, he lives a normal life and left our meeting early to attend school.
Our last stop was a high school where one hundred 7th to 12th grade boys and girls were in attendance. While we enjoyed a snack with the principal and the five teachers (4 men and 1 woman), we discussed the differences between their school system and the Western school system of which I have been accustomed.
Because of Plan’s work, more and more families now understand the importance of sending both their sons and daughters to school. However, there are still areas where girls are not in attendance. There are many reasons for this, but two of the most common reasons are because they are pulled out of school in order to tend to the household or because they are afraid to attend school due to the lack of indoor restrooms. Not having an indoor restroom means that girls have to use the restroom in nearby fields. Because of this, girls often decide to remain at home rather than deal with the humilation that comes with using the restroom in public.
After our talk, we visited a classroom decorated with flowers. All one hundred students welcomed me with shining eyes and smiling faces. The 7th grade girls sang a song for me. The principal introduced me to the children. These children were excited to share what they had learned about HIV and what they have learned to protect themselves.
Then the students got a chance to ask me questions. Some of the questions asked were:
- What are your traditions in the USA?
- Are Americans superstitious?
- What subjects are taught in American schools?
- How do Americans become married?
- Is racism still present in the USA?
- How large is your home?
After answering their questions, I learned of their dreams to become doctors, singers, and their desire to someday visit the West. Soon, I noticed that our mutual shyness had dissipated.
When it was time to leave, I may have left the children behind, but I did not leave their smiles. Those will remain with me forever.
Before we started our return trip, we enjoyed a delicious picnic on the village plaza. A local woman joined us. In our conversation, I learned that she and her 11 year-old daughter were abandoned by her husband when she was diagnosed with HIV. Plan USA has given her a goat, which provides her with an additional source of income while she works in the field.
After our picnic, we visited a beautiful temple where we sent out our prayers for the health and well-being of the families that we had visited and the many others in this world who are facing similar challenges.
I returned back to my home filled with endless impressions. I am inspired by the difference that Plan USA has made. One proverb comes into my mind when I describe the work of Plan: “give a man a fish and you will feed him for a day, but give a man a fishing pole and you will feed him for life.”
Rather than simply helping, the mission of Plan USA is to teach responsibility. This is very well represented in the work that Plan is doing in India.
I can’t thank everyone who made this day possible for me enough. I won’t ever forget it.