Kolkata: Thousands of National Cadet Corps (NCC) members in Kolkata are at the forefront of West Bengal’s AIDS control programme.

Roughly one lakh cadets have been mobilized for this unique initiative, and distribute special audio cassettes and textbooks to spread awareness.

Seeing their success, even UNICEF, for the first time, has decided to tie up with NCC.

Under an agreement to be signed next month, NCC cadets will be used as foot-soldiers for a new UNICEF programme in Bengal’s countryside.

“We chose to take the help of the NCC because it has a huge reach in the country,” said Dilip Rozario of the Sonata Foundation.

Going beyond routine military drills, the new programmes showcase the changing face of the NCC.

With branches in every part of the country, it provides a readymade disciplined force of volunteers for organisations like the UNICEF, who only have to invest in training.

And the NCC is cleverly mixing its adventure activities with social concerns. Cadets on a 440-kilometer sailing exhibition down the Ganga stopped every few kilometers to spread AIDS awareness in the villages near the riverbank.

“Besides giving these cadets military training and grooming, we also want to involve them in community development,” said Lt Gen B K Bopanna, Director General NCC.

With 1.4 million cadets, the NCC is the largest youth organization in the country and its work in AIDS awareness is only a pointer towards the role it can play in acting as an engine of social change.

If the experiment in Bengal is successful, it could be replicated in other states in the country.