Suraj, the Shining Light of his Community


I was 16 when it happened my big, aha moment.

Through the haze of an angry neighbourhood brawl, I saw a quiet, confident young man walk up and end the commotion-just like that. He took me aside and I found myself tripping over words trying, inexplicably, to explain how yet another fight had begun.

I was an angry kid. I'd made some decisions I'm not proud of, with friends who, like me, needed guidance. We'd skip class, loiter about the city, pick baseless fights and chew tobacco all day. We were headed for trouble. Fast.

Enter Kathik, the quiet young change maker and Plan India outreach worker who helped me turn my life around.



Suraj

I still recall sitting on a stoop with Kathik for hours after the fight, discussing our lives and times. For the first time in years, I felt understood. I suppose it was how similar we seemed, and yet how different. Kathik had made a life for himself despite coming from circumstances similar to mine.

He told me how he came to work for Plan India's Young Health Programme (YHP), and how it helped him find purpose. He explained, simply, how bad decisions could affect the course of our entire lives. With utmost patience, he discussed health, community, ambition and the perils of addiction. It was the first time I'd heard any of this and paid attention.

Kathik invited us to visit a YHP Health Information Centre (HIC) when the mood struck us. There, they provided counselling on health, education and life skills, a fully stocked library, the internet and a host of other facilities. We could also meet other youth who decided to make a change and successfully overcame their addictions, he said.

I was intrigued. As I walked home that night, his words played on loop in my head. The decision was easy.



Suraj

I woke bright and early and made a beeline for the HIC in my neighbourhood. It was like coming home. The centre was bustling with activity and filled with fun, interesting young people with a lot to share. We watched videos, played informative games, read the news and talked at length. Within hours, I'd made friends that have stood by me ever since.

That was six years ago.

Now, I run the very centre I visited, and many more across my hometown, Delhi.

I am the YHP's Project Coordinator, a trained peer educator and youth advocate who represented India at the International Association for Adolescent Health Conference in Turkey in 2013.

With a team of dedicated friends, I handle the programme's extensive youth training and community outreach efforts including (and especially) issue-based street plays designed to engage hard-to-reach populations. I build linkages with government facilities and connect them with the youth and their communities for comprehensive support and healthcare coverage.

I cut my teeth by diving headlong into activities organised by the YHP and have emerged a new man for it. All because I was heard.

Days into visiting the HIC for the first time, I was initiated into street theatre as a means to understand and explain the importance of health, nutrition and safe behaviours; to inform communities of the services available to them so they can live a happier, healthier life devoid of non-communicable diseases and all other ailments.

Suraj

I sat in on community meetings, youth debates, awareness drives, rights campaigns, social audits and even mediations with local administration eventually realising my hope to understand and embody the values of the YHP. Looking back, I'm only inspired to nurture this change among disillusioned youth like I used to be.

Plan India helped me avoid an almost certain fate of unemployment and addiction. Their support helped me become confident, mature and empowered enough to help others. I am pursuing my Masters in Social Work now and plan to do this for the rest of my life.