The harsh and unfortunate reality of a child who lost his parents to HIV not getting a shelter solely due to the stigma attached to the disease deeply moved an HIV/ AIDS counsellor of Kilpauk Medical College. Senthil Kumar left no stone unturned to convince a home to take in the child, but ultimately saw no option but to hand the child over to his aunt who showed a lot of apprehension.
The incident was a trigger that drove him to spend all his energy towards providing a better life to children who have parents with HIV/ AIDS or have lost their parents to the deadly disease or have no basic life sustenance support or no one to turn to.
Senthil has been involved in social work and community related services for over 17 years. He founded “Child”, an NGO that provides residential care to such boy kids who are from vulnerable backgrounds and belong to HIV infected parents. Relatives and neighbours have usually turned this into an excuse to shame them and subject them to discrimination. But the journey was not all smooth sailing. Getting a home alone took Senthil six months of running from house to house as owners would turn him
away at the very utterance of the word HIV.
Senthil’s dream home - Child - started with only 1 kid in 2005 and has been through a lot of struggle. “It was a very small rented place with asbestos roof, and living there was difficult beyond words, especially in the rainy season when stagnant water and mosquitoes would make the living conditions even more difficult. We were there until 2014 when we moved to our own place at Madanakuppam in Kolathur, which has an office , a living room, a dining space, a kitchen, a sickroom, a dormitory, a dressing room, a library and a staff room” says the man who has found his home on one side of the same house and now lives happily with not only his family but also 22 kids under the same roof.
“It is great to have the kids around”, says Senthil who has been happily shouldering the responsibility of their food, clothing, medical, accommodation and at the same time enriching them with value education, knowledge in art, crafts, drawing, music and computer education solely with the help of volunteers and donors.
As his vision towards ensuring a better living for HIV infected parents’ kids march forward, his project ‘I support a girl’ embraces girl children too. The girl children come and meet for the programme at the same home for boys but they do not get any residential facility. “Currently we have 100 such children benefitting from this outreach programme that aims at imparting career counselling, leadership skills etc.” These are children who have HIV infected parents and a few of them are themselves infected too. It’s one child from one family being supported by a donor. “Breaking the deeply embedded stigma and getting them educated is very difficult,” says Senthil who thinks a lot still needs to be done to bring awareness among people.