A father’s fight for love, laughter and life

Solomon Raj, founder of Shelter Home, takes his role as the adoptive father to 33 HIV-positive children very seriously, but all he wants for them is happiness and longevity

Published: 12th June 2019 05:47 AM  |   Last Updated: 12th June 2019 05:47 AM   |  A+A-

Express News Service

CHENNAI: When my wife and I got married, we did not have children for eight years. There was a lot of pressure on us from society. However, I always wanted to adopt a child in need. It was in 2004 we were introduced to Ajay* by a trans social worker, Neela. He is an HIV-positive child and had lost his family of five to the disease. By this time, I had two children of my own, but then I spoke to my wife and we decided to adopt him.

When he came to our house, he was happy and sad. He was happy because he had a family, but sad because he remembered his biological family. My in-laws didn’t take care of him, and only took care of my biological children. So he was left alone at home, and locked up. He used to scream at the neighbours, and everyone got the wrong idea. Then, I decided to take him to my workplace, but my employees soon realised he was an HIV-positive child, and they began avoiding me and him.
Soon after, I adopted Supriya*, Roshni* and Rohini*. Word got out that I was taking in HIV-positive children. Soon, we had to find a bigger house for all of our children. We also needed someone to take care of the children, because both my wife and I had to work to support them.

We found a house in Kolathur — it was a bhooth bungalow (haunted house). We still moved in because we needed a place to go. We hired women who were HIV-positive to work with us and the children. Unfortunately, we experienced some strange occurrences in that house — like the landline would call my cell when the phone was next to me, and all that — so we moved to our current location in 2010.
Now, I have 33 children. I always want three things for them — love, laughter, and life. Firstly, love, because they need to love themselves. When they realise that they have this condition, they begin to hurt themselves. But they are innocent victims of a disease. I also want them to love others, and live in unity without doing others harm.

Secondly, laughter is important. There is nothing like a sweet smile on a child’s face. Each child has witnessed at least one to two deaths, some have seen three to four, and Ajay has seen five family members die. Thirdly – oh.

Solomon: Supriya, say hello to these people from the newspaper.
Supriya: Ah, hello. Appa, what am I to say to them?
Solomon: I just wanted you to know who they are.
Supriya: Okay Appa.
Solomon: Have you eaten yet? Get everyone and eat, okay ma?
Where was I? Yes. Thirdly, life. Everyone has the right to live. I want my children to have a good life, enjoy as much as they can, and have a normal childhood.

Most people come and see our home and think, oh, it’s so well taken care of. One man came and cussed me out, saying that I have wasted his donation on flooring. When you can import Italian and Spanish tiles for your home, why can’t these children have a good house? It is all the more important for HIV-positive children to live in clean and good homes, for their health. Others see how far away our home is and don’t come. They may come once or twice, but then they give up and don’t come after.
Now, however, many of my children have grown up. They are going to college now. As per the law, I cannot keep them at home anymore because they are no longer under 18 years of age. But how does a father tell his children to leave their home? I have absorbed a few into the Trust, but finances are an issue.

Some of the boys want motorcycles. Now, many are asking for cellphones. But we do not have funds for any of that. It hurts me, because I am their father and I should provide for them that which they want. But without the money, where can I go?

Some of our children have died at the hospital. It is very difficult for all of us. The children, too, know that if one of their siblings don’t come home after a week or ten days, they have not made it. One of my children was admitted in the ICU, and he wanted juice. He was not allowed to eat anything orally. I went to get him a juice, and by the time I returned, he had passed away. How terrible was his crime that he did not deserve juice?

We have never celebrated Father’s Day. If we did celebrate, I’d probably get everyone some ice cream so that they’re happy. The children here are my children. They call me Appa, and I care for them as well as I can. They have nobody else in their lives, and all I want for them is a happy future, however long that may be, filled with love, laughter and life.

*Names changed
To contact Solomon, call 9444455275

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