Connecting local responses around the world
I went with some local NGO people as well as members of the Constellation to three villages in Karnataka in India in order to talk with young women in the villages. The Bill Gates Foundation was supporting work with vulnerable young women and their response to HIV and AIDS. The villages were Nagenhalli, Morigeri and Sushilnagar. Local NGOs had already done much work in the villages providing educational materials and in one village helping to build a library building as a place to read these materials.
Having listened to the young women and heard them proudly repeating what they had learned we noticed some young men hanging around and so we asked if we could talk to them. We gathered together about 30 young men in a room and listened to what they had to say. Their first comment was "Nobody ever comes to speak to us." So when we asked "Don't you think you may have something to do with this issue?" they certainly had lots to say, and though none of them had been with sex workers, they knew people who had.
Having spoken to both of those groups we also spoke with the Elders of the village to get their perspective. We asked whether we could assemble everybody together into the Village Hall during the afternoon. Culturally this did not normally happen, especially to discuss such a sensitive topic, but they agreed.
Everyone sat on the floor of the Village Hall in mixed groups and they had a great conversation airing different perspectives of what the real issues were and the possible responses. Having visited three villages over three days we bought representatives of each of those villages together in one place. Young men, young women and some Elders came by minibus to share what they were doing in each village. There were some common experiences, but there were some differences too. We invited three representatives to come with us to Bangalore to talk to the regional AIDS Committee. They were very forthright about what they wanted and although they were speaking in their local language Kanada it was quite clear that together they had figured out what they they needed. They were making clear requests for support in order to fulfill their plans to respond to HIV/ AIDS including transport to continue sharing and learning from each other.
From this I learned the importance of including anyone affected in helping define the appropriate response, not just to focus on the vulnerable group.