Where orphaned HIV+ kids love to live (With images)

October 16th, 2008 - 12:19 pm ICT by IANS  

Jaipur, Oct 16 (IANS) In an innocuous double-storey house on JLN Marg, a quiet residential neighbourhood in the Rajasthan capital, life is a daily celebration for 10 children aged 4 to 12.These children are constantly caught between a sapping disease and sunny health. For, Kajal, Kishna, Yogi, Deep, Govardhan, Aaman, Vikram, Bunty, Akash and Suman (names changed) are the inmates of what is perhaps Rajasthan’s first orphanage for HIV positive children, Aalingan, run by the non-profit organisation Faith.

Aalingan has a dash of blue blood. The elegantly furnished three-room apartment on the second floor of a housing block is the centre of erstwhile royal Smriti Singh’s life.

Smriti, the scion of the erstwhile principality of Panched in Madhya Pradesh, inaugurated the orphanage in September 2007, moved by the plight of several HIV positive children orphaned by the disease in the course of her social work in Jaipur.

“It is the fulfilment of a dream that I have always cherished. I wanted to build an orphanage for HIV positive children but did not have enough money. Last year, I found that I had managed to save enough from my bridal line export business to rent out an apartment,” Smriti told this visiting IANS correspondent in Jaipur.

The inmates, mostly from the underprivileged families from the state’s hinterland, were recommended by the Sawai Mansingh Hospital in the city.

The home is funded by Smriti, while the state government pays the medical bills and supplies the anti-retroviral drugs.

The medicine cabinet is full of Virolan tablets, a common variety of the anti-retroviral pills. “The children are medicated twice a day but the dose varies according to their weight and height,” Smriti said.

Medicines apart, the strict health regimen at Aalingan includes tests for CD4 (immunity cell) count once a month, checks against common cold and allergic infections. The mornings begin with yoga.

“We do not allow the children to play in the sun and their school routine - most of them attend the local Disneyland School - is strictly monitored. We brook no late nights or stressful schedules,” Smriti said.

Not that the inmates are bothered, a clutch of high-adrenaline activities keep them on their feet.

The home is crammed with toys of every conceivable kind. Puzzles, billiards, cricket kits, soft toys, paint boxes, dolls, mechanical sets, chessboards and ludo - the shelves in the bedrooms done up in bright bedspreads, posters, wall papers, stickers and floral curtains - resemble a mini toy shop. The beds are impeccably made and the children make sure that no one rumples them during the day.

“We love to play,” says Yogi, a student of Class 8. He has no ambitions. “God knows. I can be anything when I grow up but I have left it to the almighty,” says the shy 12-year-old with wise brown eyes that shimmer with mists of latent sorrow.

He is a crack shot at the billiards pool and spends most of his after-school hours putting the coloured balls into the slots.

Eleven-year-old Aaman has lost his right eye and the vision in his left eye is dimming. “The HIV infection has reached his eyes,” says Smriti. Aaman hails from a remote area in Barmer - where his father, a poor truck driver, infected his mother before his death.

Aaman’s mother died a few years later. And he was sent to the Sawai Mansingh Hospital in Jaipur from where he was sent to the orphanage. Aalingan is his home now. And the quiet boy with gold ear studs and feminine manners is showing remarkable improvement in health.

“His CD14 count has shot up to 1084 from 343 when he came here a few months ago,” Smriti said.

Deep and Monty are the babies of the home. The toddlers, aged one-and-a-half and two respectively, babble and race around the spacious apartment clutching their soft toys. They are in ship shape.

“We go to play school and love to draw,” says Monty proudly displaying a sketchbook full of coloured shapes.

Kajal, the only girl in the group of 10, wants to be a doctor.

According to Smriti, her NGO primarily focuses on healthcare, counselling, building awareness against the disease, ensuring quality school-level education and recreational facilities for children at Aalingan. India has over 2.5 million HIV/AIDS patients.

The home depends on the services of a stream of voluntary aid workers from both India and abroad who spend their summer months and pre-job breaks at the orphanage.

“But I need resources. It is difficult to sustain on personal finance. I want to make room for 10 more children, but I need sponsors,” says Smriti, who divides her time between the home and her residence-turned-resort for high-end tourists.

Help is coming, but the flow is intermittent. The Jaipur-based Clarkes-Amer hotel provides free lunches to the children; and the princess of Gunawati, an erstwhile royal estate, pays for the daily quota of milk.

“I want the royalty of Rajasthan and the neighbouring states to contribute to my cause, along with the common man,” exhorts Smriti as the children troop into the dining room for a sumptuous lunch with their “mother” in tow.

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