Breaking the Silence


Volunteers at the end of the programme facing for a group photo.

The First Candlelight memorial event under the banner “Together we are the solution”, a first of a series of 6 such events, which will lead up to World AIDS Day and beyond, took place last week at Excel World in Colombo. This series of events that will be implemented in 6 areas across Sri Lanka, including Anuradhapura, Kandy, Batticoloa, Negombo and Galle,  is aimed to raise awareness on Sexual and Reproductive Health, how HIV is spread, combat the stigma faced by people living with HIV, and dispel myths and misconceptions about HIV using interactive  and innovative tools using youth facilitators. The initiative funded by UNAIDS, and being implemented by a coalition that brought together 15 organizations including Positive Hopes Alliance, Lanka + (PLHIV Support organization), The Salvation Army, EQUAL GROUND, Alcohol and Drug Information Centre (ADIC), AIESEC, Save Lanka Kids, Beyond Borders, Companions on a Journey, The Youth committee of the Family Planning Association of Sri Lanka, National Youth Coalition Sri Lanka (NYCSL), PANOS, Plan International, World Vision and The Women’s Support group.,

Posters communicating key messages dispelling myths relating to the stigma and discrimination faced by People Living with HIV (PLHIV) such as their ability to live normal lives were displayed in Excel World.

Trained youth volunteers conducted quizzes, and organised games such as risk or no risk, designed to test public knowledge and to help educate people about transmission of HIV aids. The game Risk or No Risk showed that many people had believed that a person can contract HIV through kissing an HIV+ person, or even by eating food prepared by a HIV+ chef. Many people who played were ignorant of the fact that many people contract HIV from unfaithful spouses. Participants were made aware of their misconceptions at the end of the game, and the actual modes of how HIV spreads were explained to them, as well as the measures which could be taken to stop the virus being transmitted.

Amongst the many activities conducted were a poster creation competition, where the best poster would be chosen for a programme that will be organized by UNAIDS for World Aids Day which falls on 1st December and a graffiti floor so that the shoppers could write down messages, thoughts and responses to issues such as condom use, and how they would respond if one of their friends were to contract HIV. There was also the ‘Where do you stand?’ game, in which players decided that, if anything, they would do to avoid becoming infected by HIV. Most people said that they would either try and be faithful to their partners or use condoms as a key method of protective sex.

While the morning and early afternoon saw small numbers of participants, numbers picked up significantly in the latter half of the afternoon, and despite the fact that many people had misconceptions about HIV, they were all willing to learn from the volunteers, and show support to PLHIV by wearing the AIDS red ribbon. The closing event for the days programme, candlelight memorial, commenced with innovative play examining the prejudice that PLHIV face in Sri Lanka, and outlined how the vicious cycle happens: ’Silence’, ‘ignorance’, ‘fear’, ‘stigma’, ’iscrimination’ and ‘death’, after which everyone present, including volunteers and guests alike, took part in a pledge to educate each other about the discrimination faced by PLHIV.

One of the popular celebrities, Randhir spoke about the importance of raising awareness about HIV and AIDS and ‘packaging’ these messages to young people in a way that is familiar to them, “on their IPods” in effect. He then lit the first lamp on the stage… (so and so from such organization) followed suit in remembering those who had lost their lives to HIV and AIDS, not only in Sri Lanka but across the world.

The next programme will be conducted on 26 July at the Anuradhapura. Contact Prathiba on 0715869955 or Milinda on 0772543307.


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