When Anand* first came to Chennai, he was seven. This was the first time he came to a metro city but it wasn't a fun visit. Anand had lost his family and his closest relatives to HIV and was positive himself. No one back home in Andhra Pradesh sympathised with the child rather they wanted him out of his life. He eventually found a home and a nice family in 2005.
His foster father was no less caring than his biological father would have been but he was clueless about how to take care of an HIV positive child. "I did not know how to take care of him. Both my wife and I would leave for work and he would stay at home alone. When I came back to feed him lunch, I often found him balled up in the corner of the room," said Solomon Raj, who had always wanted to adopt kids and finally adopted Anand in 2005. He thought of taking him to the office would help but it turned out no one wanted to have a positive kid around for too long.
Solomon adopted Sheila* next. He was not just trying to give her a better life but also wanted a companion for Anand. She was positive as well. "I never had anyone to play with before I came here. No one in my native would allow me to play with their kids because I was positive," said Anand, who is now pursuing BSc in Computer Science and aspires to be a software engineer one day. After Solomon adopted Sheila, the word spread that he was adopting HIV positive kids and the number of visitors who either wanted him to take in their kid or was helping an orphan find a home increased day by day. Fourteen years later Solomon, a native of Hyderabad, is a father to 45 positive children, seven of whom are college students.
Sheila is an excellent cook and is a master when it comes to biriyani. She helps her appa, Solomon, take care of the kids at Shelter, the home that he had built for the kids. Yashaswini*, who had to discontinue her schooling owing to health issues, now takes care of the medical needs of the children. "The doctor comes and trains me on how to administer each medicine — be it ART or any other medication," she said. "I love crafts as well," chirped the young woman.
Manas*, a BCom student, is a jolly 20-year-old who came to shelter when he was just seven. He studies in the same college as Anand and loves spending his time chatting with his friends and listening to music. Solomon has devised a system so that the outside world does not know that these kids are positive and tries to give them as normal a childhood and youth as possible. Solomon juggles three jobs now — he is a social worker, a professor at a theological institute and a lecturer at the Centre for Development and Women’s Studies in Chennai.
He probably has been successful in instilling the right values and empathy that he wanted these kids to have. "I want to help kids like me when I grow up and start earning. I want to share their pain, their love, their success. Neither of us would probably be alive if not for him (Solomon). I am in love with this big joint family. I want to spread the love I have got from appa," said Anand.
*names changed to protect identity
(This article was originally published in Edex)