By Saroj Pattnaik, ChildFund India
Today we recognize World AIDS Day by taking a look at the hardships encountered by an Indian boy who was diagnosed HIV-positive after losing his parents to AIDS.
The pain that Appashi has gone through is too overwhelming to be contained in an 11-year-old’s heart. At the age of 3, he lost both his parents to AIDS. Though he found a shelter at his maternal uncle’s place, he soon became a victim of severe discrimination and negligence — because he too was found to be HIV-positive.
Living in India’s Karnataka state, Appashi was kept in a separate room and not allowed to mingle with his uncle’s children, who were all older than him. While they attended school, he was tasked with taking care of the cattle. While the other family members ate together, he took his meals separately in the corner of the room.
“I cannot remember when the last time I had food together with others at my uncle’s house. They often ate chicken, but I was never given any. Whenever I asked for it, I got scolded by my aunt,” Appashi says.
“I was spending my day feeding and taking care of the cattle at home. I was hardly allowed to play, not even with other children in the village. The only thing my uncle was doing for me was that he was taking me to a hospital when I was falling sick,” he recalls. “This was my life till I came here three years ago.”
Appashi was brought to Namma Makkala Dhama, a unique rehabilitation center for orphans and other children affected by HIV and AIDS, run by Ujwala Rural Development Service Society in Bhagalkot district and supported by ChildFund. Last year, the orphanage was renamed as Nammuru Dham (My Village) and was shifted to Bijapur, a small city some 500 kilometers away from Bangalore.
When Appashi came to the orphanage, he was severely malnourished and sick. The officials at the center immediately carried out his health check-up and gave him medication including antiretroviral therapy (ART) — the standard medication used to suppress the HIV virus and stop progression of the disease.
“At the time of admission to our orphanage, he was weighing only 15 kilograms [about 34 pounds], which was much below the standard weight for a 7-year-old,” says URDSS director Vasudev Tolabandi. We gave him special care as required by his health condition. With proper food and medication, his condition improved gradually and now he is weighing 28 kilos [about 62 pounds].”
Appashi, now in fifth grade, says he is relieved to be living in the center and now looks forward to a better life. “I am happy that I don’t have to take care of cattle anymore. I am getting good food, including my favorite dish — chicken curry and scrambled egg,” he says. “All my friends here also like chicken and egg. I think all children should be given chicken, eggs, milk and fruits because they provide all vitamins to our body,” he reasons.
“Here, I have many friends with whom I study and play together. I am lucky to be here,” Appashi says, adding he would like to become a police officer and punish those who commit violence against children.
According to Tolabandi, there are 10 children like Appashi who are HIV-positive and need constant care and supervision. “We had 30 children aged 6 to 14 years at our center. But recently, some children who were not HIV-infected have been allowed to go to their families or relatives’ places on the assurance that they will be taken care of properly,” he says.
“There are so many children who need our help, and we are planning to enroll 25 more children in the orphanage within a couple of weeks,” he says, adding that arranging funds for the children’s basic needs such as food, clothes, medicine and study materials is still a big problem.
You can help children like Appashi on World AIDS Day by making a contribution to the center through our Gifts of Love & Hope catalog.