Meet ‘Appa’ who runs a shelter for HIV positive children in Chennai | News Bharat

New Delhi: “My mission is to offer love, laughter and life to these children. There is nothing like a sweet child’s smile and these children have never received parental love,” says Solomon Raj, Appa (meaning father in Tamil) to over 80 HIV-positive children. Self-described 55-year-old Solomon Raj is not only a father but also a grandfather and runs the Shelter Trust, a home for HIV-positive and HIV-positive people in Chennai. Currently, the Shelter Trust is home to 35 children – from 4-year-olds to 18 – all smiling through the positivity and challenges of HIV.

Read also: “The need to reach vulnerable communities to achieve zero new cases of HIV/AIDS”: JVR Prasad Rao

It all started in 2004, when Solomon Raj and his wife Felvia Shanthi decided to adopt a child, as even after eight years of marriage they could not have a biological child. In an interview with NDTV-Dettol Banega Swasth India, Solomon recalled,

Within a year of marriage, society wants to see children. Since my wife and I couldn’t do anything, we decided to adopt a child, but I didn’t want to go shopping for children – choosing the most beautiful child and checking whether our physical characteristics match. It was clear to me that if we have to give life to someone, it should be someone who deserves it immensely. It was an emotional thing and I decided to adopt an HIV-positive child because while working at the drop-off center I saw some people who died of HIV and witnessed the trauma their families, especially the children, went through.

Solomon relayed the message to hospitals and positive networks. While the search for a child was ongoing, the couple had a biological child and the idea of ​​adoption shifted to Noori, a transgender woman named Solomon. He shared,

Noora’s call came with a baby up for adoption, but since I already had a baby, I politely declined the offer. I was pelted with all sorts of abuse for backing out. To get rid of the feeling of guilt, I thought of calling various NGOs and supporting the child financially, but no one was willing to take the child. A six-year-old boy lost five family members – his parents and siblings – to HIV. He remembered vividly who died first. I immediately called my wife and brought Arputhraj, our second child, home.

Read also: World AIDS Day 2022: A look at this year’s theme and facts about HIV/AIDS

Adopting an HIV-positive child was fraught with stigma and challenges for Solomon and his family. First, his mother-in-law refused to take care of Arputhraj when the couple left for work. Due to the lack of knowledge and awareness of the disease at the time, even his wife feared that their biological child would become infected.

Speaking about the couple’s care for Arputhraj, Solomon said:

The child would be locked in the house. During my 45 minute lunch break I came home, fed the baby and came back. But every time I came home, Arputhraj was either standing at the window, crying and calling out to everyone to be freed, or he was sleeping in a corner. My blood pressure would spike when I saw him lying in the corner; the first thought would be that he is dead. This obviously had a big impact on my health, so I decided to take it with me to work. For the first few days, everyone was grateful that I had done a so-called noble deed. They had lunch with us, treated Arputhraj as their own child, but suddenly everyone’s behavior changed. Some women got urinary tract infections and thought it was Arputhraj’s fault as he used the same toilet. Also, how long could I hire him for?

Even Solomon did not have much knowledge about HIV and believed that Arputhraj would die of the disease in two years. Hence the thought of admitting Arputhraj in the school never crossed his mind. The basic idea was to take care of the child and provide for him as long as possible. To solve Arputhra’s loneliness, Solomon decided to adopt another child to keep him company at home. He said,

I called Noori, told her the whole story and asked if she knew any other HIV positive children. Her only response was “you are my god”. Apparently, she had just buried a woman and had to look after Sangeetha, a six-year-old girl. I brought her to my little home.

Read also: “Youth awareness of HIV/AIDS is essential”: Ravi Bhatnagar, SOA Director, External Affairs & Partnerships, Reckitt

A working-class couple with two HIV-positive children and no one to care for has already uprooted the family in more ways than one. But this was only the beginning of the journey that Solomon had unknowingly embarked on. During the next 7-10 days, the old man and his two grandchildren knocked on Solomon’s door early in the morning and asked to adopt the children. The man came from Andhra Pradesh. At that time, HIV treatment drugs were available only in Tamil Nadu.

Apparently someone at the hospital told him that I was looking for children with HIV, so he brought them to my house. He said the children’s parents had died and he was too old to care for them, and began to cry; he fell at my feet. At that time, I had no choice but to send them back, as my house was too small, and my mother-in-law and wife already had problems with adopting two children. I asked the old man to admit the children to the hospital because they were too weak and to give me some time to think about it. For a few days I thought and had trouble sleeping. My own conscience wouldn’t let me sleep. I thought that if children were suffering, caring for them would become my life’s work.

The following week, Solomon took these two children to his humble abode and soon word spread across Chennai that Solomon Raj had come here as a guardian angel to care for HIV-infected children.

In 2005, Solomon decided to legalize the process; he established a shelter and registered it as an NGO to streamline the process. He said,

If anything happened to any of the children, I would be responsible, as it is illegal to have such children. So I took the legal route and before adoption each child is presented before the child welfare commission and I have permission for everything.

Read also: “We must address inequalities in access to HIV/AIDS-related services: UNAIDS Director

As the number of children increased, their ‘appa’ took a month’s leave to look after his children. For a month, Solomon juggled between his home and the Shelter Trust. He said,

I came home early in the morning, freshened up and at 6 am went to the children’s shelter. I would get Idli and Dosa on the way. During the day I played with them and then went again for half an hour around 11 am to get the dough for making South Indian delicacies. For months, the kids didn’t know I stepped outside every morning. No one was willing to help me. My wife wanted to adopt, but took a step back after having a biological child. But she was cooperative enough to let me do what I wanted.

After a month, Solomon met an HIV-positive commercial sex worker who had no one and was looking for shelter. She started living with the children and taking care of them. Over time, another sex worker joined to provide her support. Solomon’s workplace was cooperative enough to offer flexible working hours. It also gave him room to run three jobs simultaneously to support his extended family.

Over the past 18 years, Solomon has raised more than 80 children. Unfortunately, some succumbed to the disease, which, according to Šalamun, was too traumatic for him and he had to seek psychological support. The five children are happily married and have their own family. While some are continuing their higher education, others are employed by the Shelter Trust itself. He said,

All my children and grandchildren get together again for festivals like Diwali and Christmas. When the child turns 18, he can’t stay in the NGO, but I can’t let my child just leave. According to the norms, I take the child out of the system, but I take him as an intern.

Read also: Meet the 44-year-old HIV-positive warrior who is helping other patients in their fight

Solomon’s second child, Sangeetha, 25, works at the Shelter Trust as a cook. Sangeetha loves to serve others, so she happily cooks for everyone and feeds them. He is also proficient in tailoring and wants to excel in this in the near future.

His first child, 23-year-old Arputraj, is studying for a master’s degree in social work. He wants to follow in the footsteps of his ‘appa’ and become someone who can help others. He said,

When a father does not refuse to adopt anyone, I also want to become someone who can help others.

Speaking of the other children, Solomon said,

One is in biomedical engineering and two in visual communication. Many have completed BSC in Computer Science, M.Com and Business Management. Although these kids are low academically as they are always catching up with their studies. They get sick and miss school, but most are doing great.

The COVID-19 pandemic was particularly severe for children, as they are already immunocompromised. Solomon also couldn’t go out to buy groceries, as that would mean exposing himself to the infection and possibly bringing it back home. During COVID, the shelter lost its first commercial sex worker who worked for 14 years.

Solomon signed off by saying:

Food, shelter and clothing are considered immediate basic needs for survival. But for my children, timely medical help is one of the key parameters of their lives that I want to ensure. All are currently undergoing antiretroviral therapy (ART). Here, education and positive recreation come into play.

Read also: Expert blog: HIV prevention – together we end the HIV epidemic

NDTV – Since 2014, Dettol has been working towards a clean and healthy India through the Banega Swachh India initiative led by campaign ambassador Amitabh Bachchan. The aim of the campaign is to emphasize the interdependence of people and the environment, and people on each other, with an emphasis on One Health, One Planet, One Future – leaving no one behind. It emphasizes the need to care and consider the health of everyone in India – especially vulnerable communities – LGBTQ population, natives, various Indian tribes, ethnic and linguistic minorities, disabled people, migrants, geographically remote population, gender and sexual minorities. In the sign of the flow The covid-19 pandemicneed to WASH (water, Sanitary facilities and Hygiene) reaffirms that hand washing is one of the ways to prevent infection with the coronavirus and other diseases. The campaign will continue to raise awareness and focus on the importance of nutrition and health care for women and children, the fight malnutritionmental well-being, self-care, science and health, adolescent health and gender awareness. In addition to human health, the campaign realized that the health of the ecosystem must also be taken care of. Our environment is fragile due to human activity, which not only overexploits the available resources, but also causes enormous pollution due to the use and extraction of these resources. The imbalance has also resulted in a massive loss of biodiversity, resulting in one of the biggest threats to human survival – climate change. It is now described as “code red for humanity.” The campaign will continue to cover issues such as air pollution, waste management, plastic ban, manual cleaning and sanitation workers and menstrual hygiene. Banega Swasth India will also realize the dream of Swasth Bharat, the campaign believes that only Swachh or clean India where toilets are used and open defecation without (ODF) a status achieved as part of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan he launched Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014 it can eradicate diseases like diachorea and the country can become Swasth or healthy India.

Source link