Our caretakers and housemothers live 24/7 with the children of sex workers and those living with HIV, providing them love, peace and security. For many children, our long-term care project is the first place they understand as home and those caring for them become family. In some cases, our carers are former beneficiaries themselves able to fully support and empathise with their charges.
One example is housemother to our three to ten-year-old HIV positive girls, 22-year-old Ranjini, who was just a child herself when aged 14 her illiterate parents agreed to her marriage with a 35-year-old man. Oblivious to the fact he had been in a previous relationship with a woman, she moved in with him and his family and soon became pregnant, giving birth to her daughter at home. All was well until her uncle saw her husband with another woman - when Ranjini confronted him the only response she received was a beating.
When she became pregnant again she went for a standard maternity test where she was given the devastating news that she was HIV positive but that she had a good CD4 count and could be administered drugs to prevent passing it on to her unborn child. She returned home and asked her unfaithful husband to be tested. When he refused she chose to keep her diagnosis secret from the rest of his family. That was until her first born needed treatment for tonsillitis and the sad news that she too was HIV positive was announced in front of the family. The family pressured her husband to finally be tested and after finding out he was also HIV positive they began a regime of discrimination and mental torture against the couple.
Finally, when she was 19, Ranjini’s husband told her to leave and take their children with them, by this time she had given birth to her third HIV negative child and was pregnant with another on the way. Confused and stressed she overlooked the medication to prevent to transmission of HIV to her baby and shortly after giving birth decided she could no longer bear living with the abuse from her husband and in laws. When a relative told her about Snehalaya and our Snehadhar women’s shelter she knew she finally had somewhere for her and her four children to go.
Describing Snehlaya from the moment she arrived, Ranjini says: “I immediately felt a part of the family. It felt like a huge burden had been lifted and with no discrimination or hate here it is a much more positive environment for my own children to grow up and attend school in. I think of all the children I look after as my own, loving and caring for them while making sure they don’t suffer the same prejudices I had to endure. I do have a soft spot for the younger ones and when 10 year old Ramesh had to travel to Pune following a bad reaction to his medication I, just like any other mother would, offered to stay with him for the full two months he was hospitalised.
“Whenever people ask how I cope with looking after so many children I laugh that with four of my own already, taking on a few extra is no real issue.”