Now they are smiling; the thespians in the murky story of stigma and discrimination that attracted the curiosity of all philanthropists and social activists at national and international level. They and their supporters are grateful to all the campaigners who involved in alleviating the issue and ensure the completion of their primary education in the same school in a friendly ambiance.

The Issue

The issue was occurred during the year 2006 in Mar Dionysius Lower Primary(MDLP) School located at Pampady, a rural village of Kottayam District in Kerala State where three HIV positive children and two affected children were denied continuation of their primary education due to the opposition of the parents of other pupils in the school. These children were the inmates of Asha Kiran, the Community Care Centre facilitated by the Kerala State AIDS Control Society. The incident was disclosed by one of the leading satellite channels of Kerala named ‘Asianet News’ on 6th December 2006.

The parents were pressurizing the school management by saying that they would withdrew their kids, if the school management is permitting these affected and infected children to continue their studies in the school. The situation compelled ‘Asha Kiran’ executives to decide not to send the children to the school due to the fear of persecution from the opposed parents. The media also take part in the issue with antagonistic opinions and news that generated curiosity of the viewers/readers from all the strata of the Society and discussions at various levels.

The Action

Though it was a complicated issue, the Kerala Community could settle it properly after a strenuous effort. Immediately after the alertness by the news story, Kerala State AIDS Control Society took a delegation to the village from where the issue is being reported. The team conducted a series of meetings with various stakeholders viz. District Collector, District Medical Officer, elected Members and the President of Pampadi Grama panchayath, executives of Asha Kiran, media persons, teachers and management of the MDLP School, etc. and plead their support through proper sensitization in resolving the issue. The delegation was a successful initiative that prepared all the strata of the Society to work for the mitigation of the issue. As a result State Minister for Health and Family Welfare, Government of Kerala, District collector, District Medical Officer, Representatives of Grama Panchayath, Block Panchayath and District Panchayath, etc. were actively involved in the meeting of the Parent Teacher Association convened on the very second day of the reporting of the issue. The meeting was a failure in persuading all the parents to allow the children to continue their studies in the school. The parents exhibited extreme hostility to the supporters of the affected children during the meeting.

It was obvious from the meeting that the issue would not be resolved without dispelling the doubts and concerns of the villagers and hence it is decided to organize a two week long interpersonal communication campaign to address the concerns of the villagers. Based on the strategy and action plan prepared by Kerala State AIDS Society, all the 6196 households spread over in the village is visited by the trained volunteers selected from Kudumbasree (Community Development Society for poverty alleviation), Mahila Swast Sangh, NGOs, etc. The volunteers formed in teams under the leadership of elected members of each wards of the Grama Panchayath and met the villagers on a one to one basis to educate them about HIV/AIDS and clear their doubts regarding the illness. They have distributed materials like leaflets, posters,etc. on HIV/AIDS, repercussions of stigma and discriminations associated to the illness, etc. for further reading and message re-call. Street plays and ventriloquists were performed in various parts of the village for mobilizing community to act against the stigma and discrimination towards the HIV infected and affected children.

Kerala State AIDS Control Society arranged an exposure visit for the elected members of Pampadi Grama Panchayath and the executive members of the Parent Teachers Association of all the schools in the Grama Panchayath to the Chathannoor Grama Panchayath in Kollam District that confronted and tackled successfully the similar issue, previously. The visit gave more insight to the team about the issue.

Following to these initiatives, a joint meeting of PTA authorities of all schools in Pampadi Village, Grama Panchayath representatives, District Medical Officer, executives of Asha Kiran, Assistant Education Officer and representatives of MDLP School Management were convened under the chairmanship of the Member of Legislative Assembly (MLA) of the area. As per the decision of this meeting, a general body meeting of Parent Teachers Association of MDLP School held on the 20th day after the reporting of the issue. The result of the interpersonal communication campaign was visible in the meeting, and the oppositions of the parents became meek and gentle during the meeting. The meeting decided to allow the children to continue their studies in the same school without any fear of stigma and discrimination.

The Impact

Now all these five children left from the MDLP school. All the children except one has studied up to fourth standard and left to other schools for higher studies. The other kid discontinued her studies from this school at standard II as her relatives accepted her illness as a by-product of the resolution process of the issue. Now she is studying in fifth standard in a school at another village, without having any issue of dishonor and distinction.

Though the issue was pathetic, the planned communication campaign at local level and state level could generate positive opinions against stigma and discrimination among the community and an attitude to work for the eradication of the same. It attracted ample media coverage that
engendered discussions at various levels among the public. It in turn created conducive environment in the State for the education of the HIV infected/affected children. The worst experience of these children during December 2006 has now become the reason for the smiles of several infected/affected children in Kerala.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------BEST PRACTICE DOCUMENTATION UNIT

Support by:

Latex Family Planning Promotion Trust (HLFPPT)

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Comment by Laurence Gilliot on November 4, 2010 at 4:24pm
Dear George,

Thanks for sharing about this excellent communication campaign. We all need information about HIV to be able to fight stigma and discrimination.

Nevertheless, I often hear that information is not enough. I spoke to many young people (also here in Belgium) who know the facts about HIV but who are still afraid to be with HIV positive people. What have the communities done to go beyond information?

Also, were the efforts of the Kerala State AIDS Control Society sustainable and scalable?




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