Chris' Original Blogbeque

A fresh, vinegar-based examination of life

HIV/AIDS project

Posted by Chris on October 14, 2007

There are three main projects at Kakdwip, the Water to Development, Basic Health Care, and HIV/AIDS. When I visited, I learned more about the Basic Health Care and the hows and whys but that was pretty much it. I spent the last chunk of my day with the HIV/AIDS project, first having a conversation with the director in the office and then visiting the target group.

learning about HIV/AIDS project

It mainly works with Commercial Sex Workers (CSW), the new name the Indian government has given to prostitutes to try and remove stigma (prostitution is illegal, however). IITD workers educate CSWs on how STDs are transmitted and how to get treatment; they operate a clinic that is open four days/week and disburse medicine provided by government, refer HIV patients to Calcutta for Anti-Retroviral Therapy, and counsel individuals.

The clinic and project also focus attention on the clients, or “bridge” people. The term comes from the effect of a husband visiting a CSW, contracting an STD, then taking it back to his family.

Promoting condom use is the main education focus, both for the CSWs and the men. They are working against several stereotypes about condoms and have a 6 part social marketing strategy to increase condom usage.

I’m really not that interested in that kind of thing. Not saying they should not do that but I could not do the condom promotion job. It reminds me of a time in college when individuals would approach me or others in my group and ask why, if we didn’t like abortion, we didn’t give out condoms to everyone? Obviously there are many answers, but the best one is: that is not what we do. College students love to talk about being broke but they can certainly afford them, know how to use them, and are aware of the dangers—to say that American college students are ignorant of these things is kidding yourself. So, that’s not what we needed to do either.

Anyway, HIV/AIDS is a subject I’ve always found interesting to read about in the global context and certainly those who have I try to be compassionate towards. But understandably the discussion of the project activities is not in my interest.

What we did next was more interesting and very real—visited some of the CSWs at a brothel. I’m not sure what ideas I had about brothels but this certainly didn’t fit the description, of course everything is different here. We walked down an alley and sat on some stools given to us by the women. They ranged in age. I didn’t gain a lot of understanding from the conversation; in my notes I wrote that they face difficulties with drunk clients, police raids, and the unhealthy environment (very dirty).

In fact, when we first walked back there, a drunk guy seemed to be making a bit of a scene, and a second fellow grabbed me on the arm—I wasn’t sure why, but I think it was to reassure me that the first guy wouldn’t bother me. but for a minute, I didn’t know if he was threatening me/us.

Most of the women are married. Their husbands either don’t know or may force them into the occupation. If they are needing to work to provide for family, that probably means that husband squanders his income. They want to learn the skills like jute and embroidery and are starting to learn, but will they be able to make the transition to mainstream income generation?

Couple more things to add, as far as things that were particularly hard to see/hear: the older women offer to have unprotected sex because it helps them compete for higher rates with the younger women. I saw several men walking back with women and disappearing, then the man walking out later; I felt sick to my stomach. We went to another brothel and the owner was outside, an older, fat man who instantly struck me as being pathetic in his humanity.

How to look back on this? On one hand, I guess it’s kind of “cool” or even “interesting” to have visited this brothel. And I put “interesting” on a pedestal when it comes to experiences because I tend to value that more than fun or memorable or exciting. But I wasn’t prepared for this; I didn’t know what to ask or say; while I was interested in hearing about their struggles I also wanted to leave as soon as we got there.

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One Response to “HIV/AIDS project”

  1. Camille said

    When you get back to the States you should check out the documentary “Born Into Brothels” if you haven’t seen it already. It speaks to a lot of the things you mentioned and may have been filmed in the same red-light district you were in.

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