audio — A true story from India’s North-East (Click on the link in the left if you want to listen to the shortened audio post)
Copied below is an extract from ‘Hopes Alive, Surviving AIDS and Despair’, a book I wrote for FXB India Suraksha as a tribute to those who have been orphaned by AIDS in India and youth and families who are at grave risk. To understand AIDS and its spread in a society, one has to come to grips with ‘vulnerability’. AIDS is not the monster which came in from outside. AIDS is the enemy within, that turns the spotlight on the cracks of a society. Learning how to cope with it is to learn how to cope with life itself. Personally, I have learnt a lot about how to survive a crisis in whatever shape or form it comes from my friends who are living with HIV. The spread of AIDS also tells us that the solutions also come from within the communities that are being ravaged by the disease. In remote corners of India, away from the glare of publicity, courageous and committed women and men show the road ahead . I was privileged to meet a few of them as I researched the book. The setting is Indian but the message is universal.
n a village in the outskirts of Imphal, the capital of Manipur, in India’s North East, an unusual sight greets the visitor accustomed to only ‘bad news’ from this beautiful land weakened by drugs, AIDS, gunfire and despair. It is late afternoon. Inside a little room, a “community support class” is in progress. Around 20 boys and girls from nursery to primary school are busy doing their homework. There is a power outage. The children remain unruffled. It is an everyday problem, one of the minor ones. In the fading rays of the sun that stream in through a half-open window, tutor Dolly Jina, a young woman in her early twenties, continues to supervise their studies. There is a small break to let the children relax for a few minutes. It is free time. The youngsters look happy, especially, since there is something special to celebrate: there is a round of applause for one of the boys in the room. He has topped his class at school – no mean achievement. The children attending the after-class are among the most vulnerable in the village and its neighbouring areas. Most come from communities whose immune system has almost collapsed. Their parents are intravenous drug users. A few have lost their parents to AIDS. Once upon a time, the room was a library. But the youth club figured that having a support class for children at risk was a better use of the premise. “In the absence of this support class, these children would be roaming in the streets, playing truant. Many would have dropped out of school and God knows what would have happened to them,“ says Moisangthem Mantosh, the general secretary of the youth club. The vignette from Singjamei Makha Khongnangpheidekpi, as the village is called, may seem a world away from the one Swiss helicopter pilot Francois-Xavier Bagnoud knew. But the death of this exceptionally gifted young man who specialised in rescue operations in an accident at the age of 24 triggered a chain of actions that are now helping AIDS orphans and vulnerable children in some of the most remote and difficult locales in the world. The community support class in a remote village in this conflict-scarred part of India is one of the myriad ways in which Francois Xavier Bagnoud (FXB) India Suraksha, the local affiliate of Francois-Xavier Bagnoud International, offers hope and sustainable solutions to the challenges confronting children across the country who have lost one or both parents to HIV and AIDS or are at grave risk of contracting the infection. Francois-Xavier Bagnoud (FXB) International, a NGO headquartered in Geneva, was born out of a tragedy. The death of her only son marked a sharp turning point in the life of Countess Albina du Boisrouvray, a well-known journalist and film-maker. Transforming her personal tragedy into a mission to support those who lacked a voice in the mainstream discourse about HIV and AIDS, Albina sold off three-quarters of her assets and embarked on a journey which was to dramatically change the course of her own life and those of thousands of others across the globe. Today, FXB International is leading 100 programmes in 18 countries. One of its most exciting and innovative interventions is the ‘FXB-Village’, currently operational in 34 sites across Africa and Asia (Burundi, India , Rwanda, Thailand and Uganda). The FXB-Village consists of low-cost, sustainable, community-based interventions to help households and communities to respond to the twin challenges of reducing the impact of poverty and AIDS on children. Pivotal to the ‘FXB Village’ is its effort to strengthen the capacity of families impacted by AIDS to improve their living conditions and lift themselves out of poverty through income-generating activities (IGAs). The model provides supplementary assistance in the form of educational and nutritional support and health and psychological counselling in addition to medical treatment till such time that families become self-reliant. The uniqueness of the ‘FXB Village’ along with the income generating activities is its focus on the entire family, and not just the HIV-infected individual. It seeks to help such a family by equipping one or more members with a marketable skill, providing seed money to kick start a small business, and supplementing these initiatives with medical and nutritional support, educational assistance, psychological counselling, and awareness about hygiene and lifeskills. It is a holistic approach, which, in some instances, has also led to interventions in water and sanitation. The assistance in various forms takes place over three years, and is phased in a systematic manner. It includes helping families to tap markets for the products/services offered by their small businesses. The intervention is of great significance to India, a country with nearly 2.5 million people living with HIV and AIDS, confronting the challenge of AIDS orphans and vulnerable children. This document tells the stories of hope and change in the lives of some AIDS orphans and vulnerable children in the most difficult and remote pockets of the country who have benefited from the ideas and work of FXB’s India chapter. The take- away message in all these tales: it is possible to change the narrative of children impacted by AIDS in this country.