The Red Ribbon Express whistled into Chennai Central loaded with facts and figures about HIV/AIDS. This was an awareness campaign initiated by the National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO).
Red balloons, decorated archways, blaring celebratory music and an enthusiastic crowd and this wasn't some carnival but at an awareness campaign. Unlike the quiet, serious affair it was last time, the Red Ribbon Express stationed at Platform No. 11 at Chennai Central on April 1 and 2, made its presence felt and how! Even the passengers waiting to board their trains walked in to visit out of sheer curiosity and walked out enlightened about AIDS and ways to prevent the spread of the HIV virus.
The displays inside were more or less the same as last year's. The media used were short films, cartoons, charts, telephones, volunteers and much more. The cartoons were obviously a hit with the children who even though watched it for the entertainment factor, did learn a thing or two about hygienic living practices and the importance of maintaining an open relationship with elders.
Last year a mirror which reflected your face as you walked by, onto a screen with hundreds of other faces was replaced by a camera doing the same job, and taught the visitors that no one is an exception. The virus can affect anybody because of carelessness like using infected needles or through transfusion of infected blood.
The long line of people waiting to board the train and surprisingly outside the counsellors' compartment too was proof enough of the success of this awareness campaign. “We realised that publicity was very important which is what we lost out on last year. But as a result of intensive promotions and the ‘ Dillu Dorai' campaign, the total number of visitors this year has almost doubled,” said Mr. Tharani Singh V., Deputy Director, IEC, TANSACS. He also revealed that people are now open to learning about the disease and are coming forward on their own accord to learn about it.
Along the platform where the train was, there were many stalls put up by allied organisations that either sold products hand-made by HIV infected people, or spoke about different projects initiated for their benefit.
Helping out in one of these stalls were Kanimozhi and Anbuselvi, Std IX and Std VI students of Gupta H.S.S. They were seen enthusiastically distributing pamphlets on behalf of an organisation of which their mother is a member. They said that they loved the displays in the train, especially the cartoon films.
The campaign also included performances by popular folk song artist Pushpavanam Kupusami and folk dance troupe that paraded the length of the platform.
With all these elements put in, the Red Ribbon Express project this year came across more as a celebration of its purpose — the awareness about HIV and AIDS.