The other face


No matter how much you try to sweep things under the carpet and act like things are okay, Nepal is still a country where sex and HIV/AIDS are distant issues, issues that we feel we need not be bothered about. But the reality is much different. The data and facts show a very different picture. And though not openly spoken about, many are aware about the issue and the way it is radically affecting the country in a very negative way, though the awareness may not be to the extent that many hope it would be.

To address this issue which has an impact on all classes and sectors of society, USAID has launched a short film competition titled ‘You are no Exception.’ Eight new filmmakers have been chosen from around 40 contestants to make seven-eight-minute short films that highlight the cause.

Beth S Paige, Mission Director, USAID Nepal, said, “Young people have been especially chosen because of USAID’s faith in the youth of Nepal and it is also one of our highest priorities to engage with this group. We have been a firm supporter of various youth programmes that promote peace, reconciliation and economic growth and would like to see their skills being utilised in meaningful productive activities.”

About the new directors, she said, “The young directors are so dynamic, they have so much energy and enthusiasm, and the research each one has done is phenomenal. It was really encouraging to see such dedication for this cause.”

The programme has been launched through USAID’s private sector programme, Nepal Social Marketing and Franchaise project (N-MARC).

And these films are one of the means with which they hope to promote awareness about HIV/AIDS and use of condoms. “This competition is a key component of a broader communication campaign. The other activities include Celebrity Advocacy, production and distribution of Promotional Materials, and Partnering with the Hotel Association of Nepal to make condoms more readily available to their clients,” informed Paige.

USAID has been working towards spreading awareness and prevention of HIV/AIDS through its various activities which include enhancing the prevention-to-care continuum, treating other sexually transmitted infections among most-at-risk groups. It supports surveillance and monitoring of HIV epidemic.

Nisha Dhaubadel was one of the judges in panel that selected the directors. Dhaubadel is living with HIV/AIDS. She was infected by her husband, who was a construction worker. She is also the President of National Federation of Women Living with HIV/AIDS.

“When an educated female like me was unaware that I could be infected by my husband, I wonder what is the state of females in rural areas. I think such films will help create awareness on a larger scale and reach everyone,” she said. “The other important thing that people need to know is that there is a difference between those infected with HIV virus and HIV/AIDS,” she added.

On the selection of directors, Dhaubadel said, “We chose different topics while selecting the final eight directors, like films related to housewives, then some are focused on teenagers, issues such as how people can be infected, where they can go for blood tests and the medications available and various other issues.”

“I think when people see the films, they will get more information. Though the awareness is there, this will be helpful in understanding the issue in a better way,” she added.

“People are aware about this issue. I think what needs to be addressed is the carelessness that people show towards it,” said Asif Shah who is directing Sonam. “While shooting the film, I realised the concept I had developed was one which many people especially young men were experiencing. After watching it I hope euta darr aunchha (a fear originates) and people will be more careful, be it in their daily lives or in love.”

Another film Bas Ma Chhaina Mero Mann deals with the lives of four MARP’s (Most At Risk Population). “It deals with the misconceptions and assumptions that people have regarding HIV/AIDS. Though I don’t think one film can bring about a drastic change, I do hope that there is some change in the ongoing practices and notion that people have — malai chahin hundaina (It will not happen to me),” said director Prachanda Man Shrestha.

Prasansha Waiba’s film Nyari focusses on the psychological and emotional upheavals that a woman whose husband is leaving the country goes through knowing how rampantly HIV/AIDS has taken over the village especially as men working as migrant workers come back with the disease and infect their wives too.

The films, which the directors hope will have an impact, did not leave the actors untouched.

Sudin Pokhrel, who plays a young fashionable guy in Sonam said, “Basically the film teaches one to be safe at all times and use condoms even with people you love and trust too much.”

Talking about her experience Arunima Lamsal, who plays a newly wed in Nyari said, “The film helped me understand the emotional trauma a young woman goes through, who despite knowing the danger that lies ahead is compelled to see her husband leave as a migrant worker knowing that he may come back infected with AIDS. I also learnt about the reality that people in Doti in Accham are living with everyday as it is the area where this problem is massively prevalent.”

Whereas actor Raj Ballav Koirala’s character stresses on the part that just because it’s your first time, it doesn’t necessarily apply for your partner as well. “Basically the film reminds you of things that people take for granted and tries to remove misconceptions that people have,” said Koirala.

Sharing her experience actor Gauri Malla who is acting in Bhok said, “Even educated people cannot accept this fact easily, and after working in this film, a positive change came over me and the way I viewed this issue. It made me see that even though people are infected with the disease, with medication and a positive outlook they can live a content life. It taught me to learn to face difficulties that one may encounter in life.”