Children Of A Lesser God!
I should say I am pretty hard-boiled, having worked for many years in the field of clinical biochemistry, that too for the first years as a technical assistant collecting blood specimens from a variety of patients, which has inured me to the hardships of disease. But, what I experienced on the 3rd of April wrenched my gut! My friends Ajit and Raja who are conneced with a leading restaurant wanted to do something for children who were really deserving. My wife Asha who is the President of the Child Welfare Committee, and in charge of many of such childrens facilities, suggested feeding children who were in a special home for the HIV positive. We all agreed to that. She also suggested that it was not just giving them something that was important but also making them feel that they were loved. So, on the day of providing them food we also decided to visit them and see for ourselves.
There are two such shelters for the HIV positive children under her supervision- one for the boys and the other for girls. The smaller ones are accommodated along with the girls who also take care of them. There were 24 in the girls home and 36 in the boys. It was a really moving experience for the three of us who were visiting for the first time. The children were like all of their age group, affectionate, playful and naughty. They were very thankful that someone was giving them good food to eat. On the day we visite them their school vacations were to start. A little one piped up that her maternal uncle was coming to take her home, another one said that her grandmother would come, and so did a third one! Some of those who had no one to take them put up a brave face and conveyed that they were going to stay there, as though it was their considered decision and not thrust upon them! The President of the CWC, my wife Asha, became quite stern. She ordered the person in charge to make sure that if anyone were to take a kid home, they would have to submit an application, appear personally before her and bring them back a week before the school reopens. They had also to see that their medication was properly administered.
All of the kids had two things in common- one was that they were HIV positive and the other was that they had been abandoned by society.
There were a few babies found in dust bins – orphans whose parents had died, and some with one parent dead and the other not able to take care of the child. They had been all infected at birth and doomed to a short life despite the available medication. In fact there was none in the institutions above the age of 18. There are special rooms provided in the facility for taking care of them when they have minor ailments, and also nurses to tend to them. One good thing was all of them were going to schools, and only goverment schools because no school can refuse admission to such a child. First we went to the girls home where the older girls were tending to the youngest ones. There was one baby who had been thrown in a dust bin, There were quite a few pre-schoolers and a few attending junior college too! Several were not keeping well and had been hospitalised. We were greeted with great affection by these children who thanked us for having provided them that day’s meals.
Then we went to the boys home where they were all busy in one room. They were all being given their ART medicine that time. The stories of the boys too were similar. However, as boys tend to, they wanted to play the rough sorts of the games that the boys usually play. There were some facilities like a sand pit, seesaws, swings and such. When we wanted to photograph them with the donors of that day’s meals, we had to ask them to turn their backs as their privacy has to be maintained. They were quite sad that they were being asked to do that! However, soon after I made them pose together and photographed them with their smiling faces which I would have loved to show but cannot due to the above reason. When I showed them the monitor they were so delighted and began arguing with each other as to whose pose was better! They too fall ill when their immune systems get weak and the cycle of hospitalization and death were the same as for the girls.
The three of us were very much moved by the experience and found it very difficult to control our emotions. Fighting back our tears we came out. I remembered the motto of the Roman gladiators- we who are to die young salute thee! However, these young gladiators were doomed from birth thanks to their careless parents, and were being shunned by a callous society. The sadness is in knowing that all of them are doomed to die in a few years and yet they were unaware and were living happy lives like all childen of their age. We were told that there has been a cut in the grants to this home run by an organisation called CARDTS. Would you like to make them happy or like to contribute something directly to them? We could co-operate with you in making their short lives a little sweeter and happier.
The author, Professor Narendra Nayak is the president of the Federation of Indian Rationalist Associations. His wife Asha Nayak is the president of the Dakshina Kannada Child Welfare Committee. For donation inquiries please send prof. Nayak an email at narenyen (at) gmail (dot) com.