When I started my work with truckers on HIV, I had several prejudices about them as any other person in the community . I thought they were closed people, I was told that they were spreading HIV because they are mobile and frequent sex workers. But this evolved over time.
As I started working with them I realized that I had no direct link with them, as traders, hotel staff, police men, sex workers, etc. All I understood was that I had to create an opportunity to interact with them in a natural way.
I started to go to place where truckers halt and hitchhike from one point to another within a particular district, engaging in conversations with them. Travelling in the truck, I would ask questions like “How long you have been driving today, Where are you going? “ How long you have been on this duty?”, “Where are you from?” This would give me an opportunity to know about him and will open up an opportunity for them to ask about me as well. This enables me to explain more about my work on HIV. I would always tell them my personal story of how I got involved in this work.
I would then ask “Do you know about HIV? ” What I learned from this experience is that I had to connect informally and at a personal level, understanding their situation.
Later on, I interacted with the people in the halt points where the truckers halt for food and other services, sensitizing them to the need to work with truckers. They usually respond positively because their existence (business and occupation) depends on them. Later I used to set up a booth to interact with truckers. I never put my booth before the check-points, because truckers are concerned about policemen, the road transport authorities, who impose heavy taxes and penalties on them. Dealing with bribing also becomes a issue for them in this place. Where you place yourself is important and is largely dependent on the direction of the truck flow.
I usually sensitized everyone at the truckers stop: the traders, the vendors, the sex workers, the community… They will be your link to the truckers and will help you in your interactions. Once I could not come to my work place because I had to accompany a colleague admitted in the hospital. The visitors who met me at the office and also came with me to the hospital happened to pass through the place I worked. They purposely enquired about me to the people there. The person who worked in the puncture shop said that I will come and it is time. The visitors knowing that I will not come stayed there to see what was happening. To their amusement the person in the puncture shop set up the booth and started educating the truckers as people had started visiting the booth. When he got some work to fix the tires the person who owned the Pan shop came and continued the sessions. The visitors came back impressed and asked me what did you do in that place to establish an environment like this.
Yes, it was a lesson for me too. Something I did very naturally, that is making these two youngsters to understand about the importance of knowing and sharing facts about HIV had been so helpful in educating others. And also in sustaining my role in that place in the long run. Seven years later I met someone who was working in that place among truckers who belonged to another NGO (our project got over) I enquired about the place. He said there is not work for NGOs because everyone in that place is aware of HIV and someone had worked in that place earlier and their work had made a lot of impact. We just visit that place just as it is a very strategic location just to sustain that effect and motivate people there. Later he was thrilled to know that I was the person who had worked there earlier. Till know that place stays as my favourite place of work.
Usually truckers are busy when they are at the check posts. Sometimes even in the place they stop for food and to rest they may be pre occupied. I used to keep a small flash card that said “Konjam neeram pesalama” which means ” can we talk for some time (few minutes)”. With this I will be sitting alone in my booth. Many truckers will see this and some will surely come and ask me what it is about. I would ask them to answer that question first and then. The persons who say “yes” I will request them to sit and ask them and others there whether they are interested to speak so some more will also join because already they have seen somebody sitting / volunteering. Then I will use the cards I had prepared earlier that contains statements that contains “Isolating persons with HIV from the society can completely prevent spread of HIV to others ”, “A person with HIV is sick and cannot work as any other person”, “If I come to know that my friend has HIV I will cut my relationships with him” and so on. Each person gets a card and responds to it.
There will be agreement, disagreement and argument on these statements. Many truckers will ask how can I cut the relationship with my friend, Even if my co driver is sick during the trip I will take lead and together will complete our trip I will not let him go half way through so, even if my co driver has HIV and is unable to work I don’t mind taking him with me on a trip. This process was helpful to me to learn how important human relationships were to them and also I was amazed at their responses in caring for their friends “ love in action” . This also gave me an opportunity to clarify some myths among the truckers with the help of other truckers who were well informed and caring, by explaining that “all HIV positive persons are not sick all the time and can lead a normal life”, and also address misconceptions such as “isolating one person identified with HIV does not actually help in stopping the spread of infection to others” because there might be many who do not know their status and can be still transmitting the virus to others. Though there were only 2 to 3 person coming forward for the discussion there would be many who would be witnessing this process. This becomes a learning for all. After every session I would thank those who had participated and request everyone who witnessed this process to spread the message around.
I have learnt that the truckers care for their fellow members. They have a great network to spread messages among themselves. “Teasers” help in getting the truckers attention and to make them discuss issues openly on a voluntary basis.