One week after their father died, Chimni’s mother discovered that she, and the children, were HIV+. They were thrown out of their village. Desperate, the mother moved to a city hoping to find a job, leaving them with a relative who wanted to have little to do with them.
There are 21 children at Sevalaya. Most of them orphans. They have grandparents, aunts and uncles, but few are in touch with them. The stigma towards people with HIV in India is huge. That’s true even of cities where there is access to treatment and information. The situation in rural India, much worse.
As Ravi Bapatley, the founder of Sevalaya, found out when he started this shelter 3 years ago. He quit his job as a newspaper reporter, and with a loan from a friend, bought some land outside Hasegaon. He enrolled the children in the village school because he wanted them to integrate with the local community. But the villagers withdrew their kids, and vandalized the shelter. But Bapatley persisted, with the help of NGOs, and today the children have found acceptance. Apart from food and shelter, they have regular access to Anti Retroviral Therapy, ART.
|Volleyball game at Sevalaya|
But Sevalaya needs a lot of help. These are kids who have been rejected by their very own. They need counselling; a need the staff here, while caring and committed, is not skilled to meet.
Chimni loves to go to school and draws beautifully. For a 5 year old, she is amazingly independent. I guess it’s because she has never had anyone to look after her. But she is very closed, and answers in monosyllables. Ask her to sing though, and she can go on for hours. Especially her favourite song on the monsoon.