Below is the summary of the SALT visit conducted by teh Truckers TI Team and the ACP Team in Nagaland led by Bijoya, the project Manager of Truckers TI.
An exploratory SALT visit was done on 5th November 2009 at 3:30pm to Lahorijan, the parking area where trucks from various part of the country are stationed on the National Highway 39. The drivers were busy cooking and getting ready to work. The team comprised of Bijoya from NEDHIV Truckers Targeted Intervention project –Nagaland, Parvez from AIDS Prevention Society Assam and Bobby Zachariah from Constellation.
The parking lot is maintained by a Mr. Sopan who used to run an automobile workshop himself, but decided to do something when he saw one of the truck drivers badly beaten up and looted by highway robbers. He said that he does not gain any profit from the station as his charges of Rs. 30.00 per day (similar places charge about Rs. 100.00 per day) including accommodation and parking facilities just covers the cost. He is happy that his place is safe and provides a place of rest and relaxation for the drivers and that he is able to help many needy people whom he meets here. He has kept the place ‘clean’ from the influence and practice of sex workers as well.
The parking lot owner, the drivers, helpers, and garage workers gathered around in anticipation of an awareness session on HIV. We however introduced ourselves and started sharing about the hopes and concerns in each other’s family and professional life. They shared how eager they were that their children be healthy, educated and eventually become professionals. One of them is saving money to buy a truck.
One of the drivers from UP state expressed sadly - “our lives are worse than the street dogs” as they are harassed by cops, militants, and local goons all along the highway. They also had the feeling that their profession commanded no respect and they don’t want their children to be in this profession. To keep themselves healthy, they cook their own food instead of eating in the roadside dhabaas (eateries) which also helped some of them not to be tempted to the Sex Workers. One of them shared how he changed his behavior of visiting sex workers ten years back, so that he does not bring HIV and such illness into his family. He advices his colleagues to follow his example or use condoms, if they are not able to avoid having sex. He felt helpless that this is the most that he can do and that people need to take responsibility for their own behaviors.
The Panditji – a Brahmin Driver from Bihar said that use of mobile phones also helped them to stay connected with their family all the time, helping them to avoid temptations for sex. He told that he knows a driver who is HIV positive but won’t disclose his name and has no feeling of discrimination. He eats, sits and talks with him. He even guided his friend for the use of ART.
The truckers encouraged and facilitated the conversation amongst them. The team used various languages – Hindi, Assamese, Bihari and Manipuri to converse with them. The truckers also had the desire to learn from the visitor’s experience.
One of the team members remarked how silent and non cooperative the truckers were when another group had come in for the purpose of doing a survey to collect information from them, but the SALT approach has helped them to open up.
The truckers were excited to learn and share their experiences with their counterparts in Kenya by the Indo-Kenya video SALT visit.