Bengaluru: When Babu Seenappa, a Bengaluru-based youngster found out that he had HIV, he could not fully comprehend the gravity of the diagnosis. Later, he realised it was not an end, but a new beginning.
Today, the same lad who faced social stigma is ready, running shoes on, to take part in the prestigious Nelson Mandela Marathon at Pietermaritzburg in South Africa on August 25, 2019. This was possible thanks to the programme under the New Hope of Kids called Champion in Me, conceptualised by the Bangalore Schools Sports Foundation and hospice Snehagram where children living with HIV/AIDS are empowered through sports.
Babu is also one of the 10 athletes from BSSF recognised by UNAIDS as youth ambassadors with support from Dr Bilali Camara of UNAIDS India.
“Babu has been living with HIV (contracted in the womb). BSSF has been working to empower the children through sports. He has been trained though a customised athletic programme created for children living with HIV. Being invited to the Nelson Mandela marathon is an honour, and Babu has already participated in over 30 marathons. We have also been recognised by UNAIDS for our mission - to eradicate the stigma surrounding HIV. We wanted to use sports as a medium of transformation," says his coach and mentor Elvis Joseph, founder- director, BSSF. Elvis has worked with positive children for over a decade now.
“I feel happy, accomplished and empowered," says 18-year-old Babu, a Hosakote native who lives at the boarding school and care centre, headed by Fr Mathew, Snehagram. “For me, HIV are just alphabets. Nothing will stop me from accomplishing my goals. Through sports, there is a future for all children living with HIV across the world," he says. He trains daily, his diet comprising ragi soya, malts, eggs, meat, greens, cereals and pulses.
“This invite is global recognition for our work,” Elvis adds.
The regime has been carefully crafted keeping in mind the compromised immune system of positive children. Having travelled to around 11 countries to participate at marathons, Elvis and the children also hope to spread a message of hope.
Babu clocks 37 minutes for the 10K, and Elvis adds, "He is on par with any athlete. The children have participated in marathons and athletic competitions across the world - International Children's Games, Children's Olympics (Netherlands), Boston 10k, Gold Coast Marathon, Bangkok Marathon, Phuket International Marathon, Colombo International Marathon and Jerusalem Marathon.
Babu who has spoken at the World Aids Conferences in Melbourne and Amsterdam, says, “Speaking at the conferences helped me gain courage and confidence. I was also surprised to find so many people in the world living with HIV.” When not training, Babu works on a poultry farm - "I love farming. I want to learn more about agriculture and the poultry business." All set to take his mark, for now, there is a run to finish, and a message to impart.