Sri Lanka is a low prevalence country inspite of having a high prevalence of risk behaviour. Mattakkuliya, situated in the heart of the Colombo city, is peculiar in that common perception is that it is inhabited with aggressive, socially destructive and uneducated people. Lots of crimes do originate from the area. Youth in the area also have different characteristics to those in other parts of the country. They are extremely outgoing, there is little interest in getting educated and learning things, risk-taking is a hobby especially with their role models being aggressive risk-taking type.
In 2007, we got funded by the UNESCAP for building life skills to prevent HIV// AIDS among youth. We met around 30 young men and women and started a discussion about HIV and what needs to be done. They confirmed that about 10 organizations were already working with them on HIV.
So: What did change? "Nothing, these programs are far from us. Most programs try to educate us in a language that we don't even understand. We don't understand all these technical terms. If you are coming to do the same thing, don't bother to come". OK, so we want to work with you if you think it is needed and what do you need?
Community replied: "there is a drug and alcohol problem and we are conscious of our risks. Why not provide our community a forum so we can discuss these issues ourselves?" We provided the basic facilities and a facilitator from the Foundation of Health Promotion who understands the community and is young and let them work for a while. After a while, the group grew so much it had to be split up in 5 separate groups. After 4 months, they started coming up with various responses they can make to prevent HIV/ AIDS. They were beginning to feel concerned about the community who were not involved and who do not get tested. "There are musical events in Colombo that our peers love to attend. We'll educate our friends who do not join the forums, but join the musical events. We'll use our own ways of educating them"
A number of young men who were involved were three-wheel (tuktuk) drivers who were aware of the peers who engage in risky behaviours. They now see it's not just their job to bring these people from a to b, but also to inform their passengers and provide peer support. Three wheeler drivers became agents of change. They now offer a free ride to the National HIV/AIDS control programme's laboratory to whoever is interested in getting their HIV status checked. Confidentiality is ensured. Not only that, they will promote getting an HIV test done among their peers and of course clients who they know had been engaging in risk behaviours. Funding ended after 1year, but the results are still continuing. They do not consider the things they do as "HIV prevention work". They just lead their day to day lives. Educating and empowering their peers have become something in their day-to-day activities.