Being HIVpositive

By David Stephens

Towards the end of 2009, UNAIDS, a joint United Nations programme on HIV/AIDS, estimated the number of Sri Lankans living with the disease at about the 3000 mark. Although not alarmingly high, the prospect of this figure increasing in the future is a very real risk, a risk that the Rotaract Club of Sri Lanka is not willing to gamble with.

The Rotaract District 3220 (the Rotaract Club of Sri Lanka), beginning from October 10, will launch ‘HIV & YOUth’, a large scale two month awareness campaign that, as its name suggests, will look to reach over a 1000 young people, aged between 16- 25, from Urban and Suburban areas of the country.

The whole initiative will essentially comprise of ten workshops, five movie screenings, and two forum theatre performances organized by a wide plethora of Rotaract clubs.

The Rotaract clubs that have banded together to execute this project are those of the Informatics Institute of Technology, Colombo Fort, Spectrum Institute of Science and Technology, American National College, Colombo Uptown, Colombo West, Colombo Downtown, Colombo Regent, Wellawatte, Panadura and Kandy.

Director of Community Service for Rotaract Sri Lanka, Bhagya Ratnayake, says the identification of young people as a target audience was a decision meant to coincide with this year’s (designated the International Year of Youth) central theme, as hailed by the United Nations General Assembly, of ‘Dialogue and Mutual Understanding’.

“Some of the major aims of HIV&YOUth are to foster proper peer to peer communication and create awareness of a wide variety of aspects relating to the disease. Some of these are methods of transmission, the stigma attached to the disease, as well as the resources available for youth,” she explains.

Bhagya goes on to explain that the group hopes to start a Google group and a blog which will act as a platform for communication, where participants of the whole initiative can voice their views and gain further information.

When questioned about the importance of highlighting an issue such as HIV rather than combating more worrying problems such as poverty or those pertaining to the environment, Bhagya explains that a large segment of the population, particularly young people, are ignorant of the disease’s threat.
“Most young people especially do not know enough about the disease, most importantly about the resources available to them and transmission.

That’s why we are hoping to initiate positive dialogue between youngsters on this issue, so that we can convince them about the benefit of adopting a healthier lifestyle,” she exerts. The Rotaractors will not go it all alone and will receive the fervent support of the Happy Life Project of the Family Planning Association.

In addition they will also receive technical support assistance from the United Nations Fund for Population Activities, Grassroots Development Consultants, YPeer Network Sri Lanka, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and Beyond Borders.

For those of you seeking additional information regarding ‘HIV&YOUth’ you can go to the Rotaract Club of Sri Lanka’s website, www.rotaractsrilanka.org or email your questions or views of the campaign to hivandyouth@gmail.com.

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