Making a Difference on V Day
CHENNAI: For 5-year-old Nikil*, who was abandoned by his family after he was diagnosed with HIV, this year’s Valentine’s Day was special, not just because he knew about the day, but he was awaiting a team of youngsters who promised to visit him on this day.
Nikil is one among the 45 children living with HIV at SIP Memorial Trust, Perambur, who for the first time, celebrated Valentine’s Day thanks to the Padikatugal team, an NGO.
Around 10 youngsters from different corporate companies in the city have been visiting the care-giving homes for children and senior citizens in the city on Valentine’s Day for the past four years, trying to spread the message that it’s not a day meant only for couples, but also for anyone who is in need of love.
On Sunday, the team brought a cake, milk powder and other supplies for children and conducted games for them. “People mistake Valentine’s Day as a day for lovers to celebrate their love for each other. When there are children here who don’t even know what love is, we believe that showing them love and sharing their happiness may add more value to their days. That’s our aim — to celebrate love with them on V Day,” said Kishore, member of Padikatugal.
In another case, for 19-year old Pooja*, from Krishnagiri until six years ago, everyday used to be a nightmare. Pooja was very young when her parents passed away from AIDS. She was looked after by her grandmother; she too passed away when Pooja was around seven years old.
After which, her relatives looked after her, until one day when they found out that she was HIV-positive. “Immediately, they made me live in a small hut, which was at one end of the agricultural field. My uncle and aunt warned me not to enter the house after that. At that time, I did not know what HIV meant,” says Pooja.
Walking down the horrific memory lane, Pooja says, “I used sell flowers and earn around `15 everyday. And I used to wait in the long queue at the PDS stores to get rice and dhal, and cook for myself since I was eight. My prayers everyday used to be ‘Let the night not come’. I was scared of sleeping alone in the hut, crying the whole night.”
One day, an NGO volunteer visited the village, and saw Pooja waiting at the government hospital to get medicines. “The volunteer asked me if I wanted to stay at a home. I immediately agreed and at once left the hut without informing anybody,” she smiles.
Pooja was brought to Chennai six years ago, and has been staying at this home since then. “I’ve been cooking for the children here. This is the first year I am celebrating V Day,” she smiles. M Poonkoodi, in-charge of the home, says the kids wait for visitors to spend time with them. “The awareness has risen but that’s only in urban areas. In rural areas, the stigma continues and that has to change.”