Namma Halli Mela : Celebrating the potential of village communities

I have just returned from Samraksha's two day dissemination in Koppal, and it has been an inspiring visit. Different village communities from across the district attended the event, which was a chance for them to share how and why they have become involved with HIV, and what they intend to do in the future. Young men, women, older people, representatives of government programmes at the village level, like the ASHA worker (Accredited Social Health Activist) and ICDS (Integrated Child Development Scheme) workers shared the platform with senior district government officers, who got a chance to see, appreciate and understand the extraordinary potential within the communities.

Every moment of the two days, inspired, and taught me something, but certain images stand out, whether it was the young man who spoke movingly about his sibling's child whom he has adopted, following his sisters, death, or the physically challenged man who spke of how his own sisters death had inspired him to work for HIV, and he would ensure his village remained free from HIV, no matter what his constraints. As streetplays on different issues were being enacted, communities walked spontaneously to te stage to share their ideas, whether it was to challenge stigma, reach out to the affected people when their own families and communties were rejecting them, or reinforce the need for testing.
or vociferously advocate the right of a positive woman to have a child, and convince her family about the effectiveness of ART and PPTCT.

This dissemination was organized to allow the communities to share their experiences, after Sarmaksha became involved with them, through the Link Worker Programme, which is a national level programme. The community processes were facilitated by link workers, who are themselves from the community and it has been a remarkable journey for them, in a short span of just four months.

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Comment by Joe Ngamkhuchung on August 12, 2009 at 3:21pm
Exciting and inspiring! We need such new ideas always.Human innovativeness is the wonder of creativity. thanks lots for highlighting such uplifting events.
Joe
Comment by Sanghamitra Iyengar on August 11, 2009 at 9:56am
Thanks Divya, I dont know when I will get down to writing up my experience. but it was good to read your. I call this the Knowledge and Inspiration Fair and from now on all of them are going to be called that. . The inspiration quotient was really high..

what inspired me was the simplicity of so many community members , who responded as human beings , but were able to reflect back on that, and offer it to others for learning. My own learning was what you asked about Gaston, on transfer. We had women in sex work from five district level organisations who came for this event. We had a small meeting in the morning, and I requested them to stay back and share at the end of the day what the responses in the general community meant to them, what were the learnings, and what could they take back and what could they give. They participated in all the community discussions sharing how someone in their community had dealt with different things; care of a friend living with HIV for instance, or how they had helped someone cope with the diagnosis. At the end of the day, their responses on how they found the initiatives taken by community members of all ages in their own way so inspiring. They felt that they had learnt so much from the process of people just talking about issues. They felt that this process of recognising the strength of each other is what they would take back. They also felt that they were so doubtful of how the general community would view them, but were surprised to find that they were so well accepted and could come together as people, and listen to each other. The most inspiring moment for me was.... a sharing by one of the leaders of the women in sex work..... " I was in a dilemma whether I should disclose that I am a sex worker or not in this forum. I see that there are 18/19 year olds with such wonderful spirit and passion who have been permitted by their families to travel and work in the villages. Would their families who have come to this event be deterred by this disclosure and deny them to opportunity to continue working?. I decided not to disclose in this forum, as I wanted these young women to be able to contribute" . Others disclosed, and the community accepted them, but for me, the sensitivity of this woman, Lakshmi, was very inspiring.
Comment by Divya Sarma on August 3, 2009 at 12:56pm
Thanks Rituu for explaining about the concept of link workers. As for Gaston's question, I would say that accepting the potential of communities for change, which is a core beleif of AIDS competence, and indeed should be for most of developmet practice, is not a one time step. It is a continuous process, specially for many development professionals, who may have been trained to take on an expert role, and who feel naturally more safe and comfortable in it. This experience has taken me further along the road of beleiving in community capacities.
Comment by Gaston on August 2, 2009 at 6:26pm
Dear Divya, thanks for sharing this experience. You state: 'Every moment of the two days, inspired, and taught me something'.

I am particularly interested how you transfer your learning during these days to your own work and your own life? Sometimes, I learn a lot, but it turned out important for me to make the concrete next step on reflecting how am I really going to change the way I do my work or the way I interact.

How are you going to transfer this learning in your context?

Thanks,
Gaston
Comment by Rituu B. Nanda on August 1, 2009 at 7:18pm
Dear Laurence,

Here is the answer to your question on link workers. The National AIDS Control Programme Phase III in India envisages the use of link workers- residents of villages/towns of not more than 5000 population. These persons in the age group of 19-25 years would be allotted some 10-15 villages where they will identify high risk and highly vulnerable households and provide them intensive prevention education to protect them from getting the infection.

Alongside, the link workers would also be expected to actively work with the community and based on the mapping of civil society resources available, mainstream HIV prevention messages . Since youth will be the focus, the link workers will be expected to run youth clinics once a week, where they can impart necessary information, clarify doubts and help the youth to cope up with their vulnerability to the HIV infection.

Rituu
Comment by Rituu B. Nanda on August 1, 2009 at 7:14pm
Dear Divya,

Thanks for informing of this exciting event. Wish I was in Koppal! Congratulations to you and the Samraksha team including Sanghamitra, Hanumesh, and Bheri.

The link workers model has taken a long time to take off. You mention that linkers workers under Samraksha has picked up well. What has Samraksha differently to enable this? How has ACP been applied in this context? Will be grateful if you could elaborate on this.

Divya, you did a terrific job. Look forward to more stories, photographs and the film from the event.

Warm regards,

Rituu
Comment by Laurence Gilliot on July 31, 2009 at 9:09pm
This is a wonderful experience of local responses, Divya! Thank you for sharing :-)

What is a link worker? Did you know that the 'L' of SALT stands for Link. As facilitators, we Link communities to existing resources and other communities.

In your experience, when does a community start taking ownership of the issue of HIV and start acting? What are the conditions for this to happen?

Best regards,

Laurence

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