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The Power of Peer Support in Rural India

16 April 2014

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The Elton John AIDS Foundation's Prasanna Kannan just returned from a visit to one of our most inspiring programmes, Meri Life, Meri Choice.  Implemented by the MAMTA Health Institute for Mother and Child and funded by the Foundation, Meri Life, Meri Choice works with at-risk women in Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh, two of India's poorest states. The programme's peer mentors are trained in the areas of HIV/AIDS, safe sex, reproductive health, and the gender norms that leave them vulnerable.

“It was so encouraging to see these young women working together,” shared Prasanna. “In a safe space where they can share their experiences, they’re much more engaged than they might be with a health worker, and they really grasp the tools they need to create a healthy future for themselves and those around them.  This programme is helping to create powerful change in these communities.”

By the end of this year, we will have tested 8,000 adolescent girls and women for HIV in these communities, empowering them with knowledge of their status and allowing them to get treatment sooner.

The red ribbon below is the symbol of Meri Life, Meri Choice (My Life, My Choice). Hand-painted advertisements for the programme are posted all over the villages where we work.

The red ribbon is the symbol of Meri Life, Meri Choice (My Life, My Choice).

In the rural village of Nauwa, where females rarely receive an education, peer mentor Rakhi (in blue, below) empowers a group of at-risk girls with their very first lesson on sexual health and HIV awareness.

"It has given me livelihood," says Rakhi of the mentorship programme. "It has given me purpose. It has given me a voice in my community. No one ever taught us this information. We are all grateful for it, and I feel pleased and honoured to lead this discussion with my peers. I am now a resource for my community."

Peer mentor Rakhi empowers at-risk girls with a lesson on sexual health.

Women are often kept at home in India’s rural communities, but our programme partners are dedicated to finding ways to reach as many of them as they can. Here, arrows are painted onto the road directing women to Meri Life, Meri Choice (MLMC) and the Gender Resource Centre (GRC), where the programme is delivered.

Arrows direct women to Meri Life, Meri Choice (MLMC) and the Gender Resource Centre (GRC)

At a GRC in the underdeveloped village of Nari in Uttar Pradesh, a group of married women is educated about their HIV risk and given resources for testing. Their husbands are migrant workers who travel to larger cities where they often engage in sex with prostitutes, putting their wives at risk when they return home.

In Uttar Pradesh, a group of women is educated about their HIV risk and given resources for testing.

Meri Life, Meri Choice is one of the more than 1,300 programmes that we've funded since the Foundation began in 1993.  Each of these programmes furthers our commitment to ending new HIV infections, ending AIDS deaths, and ending discrimination of those at risk of or affected by HIV. Here's how you can help.