“The TeachAIDS materials are amazing. If you come to one of the viewings, you'll see how the children are glued to the television. They get it so fast because the material is fantastic. Even the teachers need to know, so the teachers are there listening and watching the whole thing, and they're so informed. Those children will never forget, they'll be empowered for the rest of their lives. I wish there was something like this when I was growing up.” - Amala Akkineni
Passionate about improving social welfare, actress-turned-activist Amala Akkineni is committed to causes ranging from animal welfare, environment issues, child welfare, women’s empowerment, and HIV education. TeachAIDS is honored to welcome Akkineni as a Trustee of TeachAIDS India Trust.
Akkineni was already deeply concerned about HIV and AIDS in India when she first connected with TeachAIDS in 2009. The state of Andhra Pradesh was roiled in debate, with the front pages of newspapers reporting the expulsion of HIV-positive children from schools. As a spokesperson for the Freedom Foundation and an Ambassador for the Andhra Pradesh State AIDS Control Society, Akkineni was invited to participate in the public debates, speaking with the media, school officials, NGOs, and parents. Through this, she realized the root cause of the negativity and fear was limited understanding about how HIV was transmitted. She also discovered the national government’s education materials had been deemed too explicit for youth, and even banned across many Indian states.
Shortly after the public debates, she met Dr. Piya Sorcar, founder and CEO of TeachAIDS, in Hyderabad, India. Akkineni said, “I was emotionally drained after the debates, trying to convince parents that their children were growing up in a world with HIV and what better way to learn about transmission than prevention for oneself, and compassion for others. Meeting Piya was amazing. She had all the answers to the problems we had faced at the debate with cultural sensitivity. It was cosmic that it all came together right to our doorstep. I knew the Universe was watching over those kids.”
Recognizing the power of the TeachAIDS materials, and despite her action-packed schedule, Akkineni joined the TeachAIDS efforts in India to support the development of several localized Indian language versions of the animated tutorials, starting with the Telugu and Indian English versions for Andhra Pradesh. Akkineni was the opening speaker at the TeachAIDS press launch event, calling attention to the need for basic HIV education. The animated software was later distributed into schools and counseling centers across the state and showed on television multiple times (2011 | 2012).
“It is reassuring to know that every child in Andhra Pradesh now has access to very sound education materials at a vulnerable age. We hope to bring this same basic knowledge to children across our country, and throughout the world," said Akkineni.
As a beloved and multitalented icon in Indian cinema, Akkineni starred in more than 50 films across 5 Indian languages before the age of 25, including a Filmfare Awards South for Best Actress. In 1992, at the peak of her career, she left the film industry to devote herself full time to the betterment of society, co-founding the reputable animal welfare NGO Blue Cross of Hyderabad with her husband, renowned actor Nagarjuna Akkineni. In 2012, she briefly returned to the screen in Life is Beautiful, for which she received critical acclaim and popular awards, including a CineMAA Award for Best Outstanding Actress and a Filmfare Awards South for Best Supporting Actress.
Akkineni shared, “TeachAIDS solved the puzzle of how to bring a very serious subject into the minds of our children through the use of celebrities, among other key elements. Celebrities are famous and successful for a reason. They have this inherent charm, talent, and skill to make something very serious become exciting and interesting. I think this is why our children are glued to the television watching and wanting to know more. It’s impressive and highly commendable to see dozens of top celebrities across India come together to help drive the TeachAIDS mission forward.”
Along with serving as Chairperson of Blue Cross, Akkineni is on the Board of Greenpeace India, an Ambassador for Nobel Laureate Al Gore’s The Climate Project - India, the official celebrity spokesperson for Ushalakshmi Breast Cancer Foundation, and an Ambassador for UNICEF - India. In 2005, she worked alongside Richard Gere, and a number of other Indian celebrities, on the ‘A Time for Heroes’ campaign aimed to further sensitize the Indian press on issues related to properly reporting HIV and AIDS in the media.
The TeachAIDS mission benefits tremendously from the experience and passion Ms. Amala Akkineni brings to her role as a Trustee. Aligned with the Indian government’s recently announced Phase IV of their National AIDS Control Programme to continue their commitment to reversing the national epidemic, we look forward to creating new culturally-appropriate materials to address millions of people across India by providing education and combating stigma and discrimination.
Photo: Actress and activist, Ms. Amala Akkineni, joins the Andhra Pradesh State AIDS Control Society (APSACS) education team at one of their showings of the TeachAIDS animations at Zilla Parishad Government High School, a government school in Hyderabad, India. Since 2011, APSACS has been using the TeachAIDS materials to educate young people across thousands of schools in the state.