Our Peer Workers are an essential link between Snehalaya and our beneficiaries as they better understand and can empathize with their challenges. We value this greatly and believe that we need to fully understand their issues at the highest level which is why we ensure we have beneficiaries like Vishal on our Board of Trustees.
His sexual abuse by his older brother started when he was barely seven years old. He was too young to understand what was happening or able to express it to anyone. School offered no respite, he was repeatedly bullied by his classmates for his feminine gestures and one day seven older students raped him repeatedly. When he complained to his teacher, he threatened him into keeping quiet claiming that reporting the incident would make him a laughing stock. As if that wasn’t bad enough the same teacher also took advantage of Vishal, exploiting him repeatedly. Incidents of abuse had become a part of Vishal’s life and he gradually became addicted to having sex with men.
His father forced him to get married – the union failed miserably – then Vishal lost his father and was completely alone, jobless and isolated, he felt he had nowhere to go. It was exactly then that some of his friends brought him to Snehalaya and in 2005 he became a peer educator for our Snehjyot TI 2 project which works for MSM. He started creating awareness about health, hygiene and other social matters amongst his community and for the last seven years he has been working as a Regional Officer for us and became a member of our Board of Trustees in 2013.
His journey from beneficiary to the Board was not easy, he faced great difficulties in winning the trust of his fellow community members. They feared disclosure of their identities in public and were reluctant to undergo medical check-ups.
Vishal says: “Snehalaya sent me to another NGO, ‘Vanchit Vikas’ where I was trained in various paramedical activities, which gave me the skills to gain the confidence of the members of my community. Working in Sangamner and Kopargaon was another challenge. The peer educators were not ready to cooperate and no one was ready to register with us for fear of being ‘outed’ to their families and society. Slowly I encouraged them that we would maintain their confidentiality and I have now expanded my reach to Shirdi and Rahuri. Being a member of the board allows me to represent our MSM and ensure that Snehalaya continues to work with them in the way that they wish.”