Little Diya (named changed) is 16-month-old. She is not aware where her parents are and who is she living with now. She does not even seek for them now. She is comfortable in her new home, she assumes the mother who is taking care of her as her real mother, and the other children in the house to be her siblings. She is the youngest in the ‘family’ and is the apple of everyone’s eye. Her brothers Pinku and Barun, sisters Rupa, Shanti, Renu, Sabita, Maya and Priya (all under the age group of 7 to 12) too are happily spending their days in the company of each other. They now do not want to go back to their previous life ever. These are children living with HIV-AIDS or orphans whose parents died of HIV-AIDS.
Sabita, Priya and Barun belong to the same parents who are no more. They were struggling hard to survive after the death of their parents. Their youngest sister is yet to join them after sometime as she is too small and is taken care of by her aunt for the time being. All these children have been rescued from a deplorable condition from Mangaldoi. They are HIV affected and infected children living as a family at Kasturi Children’s Home in Sundarpur, Zoo Road in Guwahati.
Though in its nascent stage, the home has nine children at present. It was inaugurated on the August 3, 2012 by the Chief Minister of Assam Tarun Gogoi. An outcome of the advocacy and initiative of Assam Network of Positive People (ANP+) with the support of Assam State Aids Control Society (ASACS), Kasturi Children’s home has proved to be a safe haven for the ones who are either HIV positive or affected by conditions related to it. However, five children were already under the care of the members of ANP+ even before the home came into being. The ANP+ members have been asking for an orphan home for a long time.
It was after the death of a little girl Advita, whom they had to lose as she was not provided with proper treatment at the right time, made them strengthen their endeavor. Both of Advita’s parents had died and she was treated badly by her uncle and aunt who had the responsibility to take care of her. The members of the ANP+ rescued her and made a lot of effort to save her. Though she revived to a better condition, could not survive the deadly virus.
Notwithstanding, it is a crucial matter to ponder upon that more than 1000 children are newly infected with HIV every day, and of these more than half will die of AIDS due to lack of access to HIV treatment. India has about 220,000 children infected by HIV/AIDS. The causes of HIV in children are basically mother-to-child transmission, blood transfusions and injecting drug use. As it has been seen that most of the infected children in case of the home are from interior rural areas, it becomes understood that awareness programs have not been able to reach those places. They are not even aware how they acquire the disease. The pregnant women, in many cases, do not undergo any kind of tests, including blood, leaving them oblivious of the impending danger. In most of the cases in these places the children are infected through the mothers during pregnancy, labour, delivery and breastfeeding. If adequate treatment is provided to the mothers during pregnancy, the children could be saved from acquiring the disease. But such stage is yet to arrive for those people though on a positive note it has been reported that the activists and the organizations working for the HIV affected and infected people are gradually been able to spread their message to the far-flung areas with the support of the Government.
As already mentioned that all the children of Kasturi Children’s Care Home are from remote areas who have lost both of their parents, were being looked after either by their relatives. They were living an unhygienic environment. The misconception and stigma associated with the disease and the lack of awareness of the common people added to their woes. They were kept away from the other family members, given food in separate utensils and were engaged in looking after the livestock.
Jhannabi Goswami, an HIV-AIDS activist expresses her anguish over these children whom she had seen living in the cowsheds. Out of the many national and international organizations working for the HIV positive people she is associated with, she is emotionally attached with the home as she had been witness to the sufferings of the children. “It gives me a sense of satisfaction which cannot be described in words. I have seen my own daughter die of the virus,” she adds.
The children residing in Kasturi Children’s Care Home is happy. “We try to ensure that the children do not suffer from depression and develop a positive outlook. The home, apart from providing them with the basic amenities, is bestowing them with care and love. They are undergoing treatment and check-ups are done at regular intervals,” says Goswami.
For instance, Barun, an HIV-positive child is suffering with TB infection. “He needs extra precautions and care which he receives from the mother. They all seem to be perfectly healthy otherwise. They are eagerly waiting to be put in the regular schools in the beginning of the next year,” says Goswami.
Presently, the members of the home, apart from taking care of their education and health, are engaged in activities like music, art and yoga. Some of them do go through difficult health conditions at times though they are all fighters. They know that there are a few people in their life now who are concerned about them and will be always there with them to boost their spirit in time of crisis. They also have a home now which they can call their own. Kudos to everyone associated with Kasturi Children’s Care Home for making the children feel safe and protected under their tender care.