ANDHRA PRADESH

Thirty on the move spreading hope

WALK FOR LIFE: Walkers of Project Concern International entering Bullaya College grounds in Visakhapatanam on Tuesday.

WALK FOR LIFE: Walkers of Project Concern International entering Bullaya College grounds in Visakhapatanam on Tuesday.  

The youngsters are on a 6,000-km trip on foot

Sumit Bhattacharjee

VISAKHAPATNAM: Ask Sandeep to take off his jogging shoes and he would hesitantly say "Kyu sir - pair ka haal bahut hi bura hai'' (Why sir - my feet are in very bad shape).

It's the same with Birendra, Hemant or Jagdish, or for that matter all the 30 walkers who have taken up the 6,000 km. AIDS Walk For Life.

They started their walk on December 1, 2004, from Rajghat in New Delhi and reached the city on Monday. Their aim is to walk along the Golden Quadrilateral National Highway touching over 300 cities, towns and villages in 13 States to sensitise people on HIV/AIDS.

The walk is being organised by Project Concern International (India), an NGO affiliated to PCI-USA, in coordination with National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO), various State AIDS Control Societies (SACS) and NGO partners in respective States.

Support team

The 30-member team is supported by another 25-member support team comprising medical staff and counsellors. The team has so far covered over 4,000 km. and they wish to culminate the walk by December 1, 2005, at Rajghat on the World AIDS Day.

``Spreading the message through the walk is not our only goal; we halt at pre-determined spots and with the help of the local NGOs and support team we distribute educative material, conduct street plays, counsel people and give audio-visual presentations. To tackle the language barrier we take the help of the volunteers of local NGOs.," says Sanchali Roy, the communication officer of PCI.

The age profile of the team is 18 to 25 years and most of them come from varied backgrounds and from different States like Uttaranchal, Delhi, Bihar and Jharkhand.

Though they are away from home for over seven months at a stretch and would be so for another five months they are not homesick. Ask them what is holding them together, and pat comes the chorus, "Team spirit, the bond of friendship and the zeal to accomplish the mission."

Unmatched zeal

A couple of them were so keen to take up the cause that they had discontinued their studies for the sake of the walk. "Once the walk is over I will go and complete my plus two," says Jagdish from Mathura, the youngest of the lot.

Sharing their experiences, the walkers say that they had a few emotional moments at every place they visited. "In Rajasthan we encountered a taxi driver who was HIV positive and was unable to disclose it in his house for fear of rejection. This factor was killing him more than the disease. We counselled him and his family members and could see the joy and the hope come back to his eyes.

All along the walk we could find that stigma was playing a dominant role in the life of the affected. "In another incident we encountered a couple of commercial sex workers near Guntur. They narrated how the men in khaki not only harass them by taking their earnings but also compel them for free sex. We have had many touching moments, especially in Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra where the pandemic is on the rise. Similarly we also feel good when people ring up to learn our progress and wish us good luck," say Sandeep and Birendra.

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