Saturday, February 9, 2008

25 Orphans get a Day of Relief

Reliance Ladies Club Biweekly Matches Families with In-Need HIV/AIDS Children

The concept is simple - those who have, help those who don't. It is not a way to solve India's development problems and it is not a long term solution for children struggling with HIV, but it is a way to supply a child in need with a month worth of nutritional food and a chance to play for an hour.

Reliance women's club, which consists of approximately 50 wives of officer level employees, have paired their members with 25 HIV positive children who are either orphaned or coming from a single guardian family. I use the word guardian because many of the children have lost their parents and are cared for by their grandmothers or relatives. The in-need families are coordinated by the GSNP+ (Official State HIV Self Help Group) and the transporation is arranged by Reliance SUVS.

Physical scars, like decayed teeth or blotchy skin, are not the only toll on display for a first time visitor. As the children and the guardians pile out of the truck, it is obvious that most of the children are battling more than HIV. Some have tattered clothes and others are barefoot, but when you dig a little deeper the emotional scars begin to surface. You notice that some are very shy and others have a look of depression in their eyes and demeanor.

Whether I was ready or not I am paired with a toddler and a young lady. The littly girl was at most four years old and her chubby cheeks and Pooh Bear sweater reminded me of my kid sister. The girl stares with no hint of emotion at the young lady. Her parents have both passed from AIDS and her aunt, a girl no older than 22, has taken her in. The doctor shows me the scar on her belly from when they had to remove her gall bladder due to a serious infection. I resort to childish antics in an attempt to break the ice and overcome the inherent language barrier, but I do not find success until I pull out my camera. I place the camera in her hands and together we take a photo of her aunt. At last, she smiles! She moves onto my lap and we take a few more pictures; always making sure to stop after each one to discover what magical screen will show. She still has not said a word but her shy smile says she is enjoying her time. If that were not enough of assurance, she offers me her chocolate bar from her gift basket as a sign of friendship. I break off a chunk and place it in her mouth. If I have learned one thing in my travels it is that all children like chocolate.

Fast forward past 40 minutes of playing with all the children and as everyone gets ready to leave my new friend runs up to me, gently grabs my hand, and in a tiny voice says her first words to me - "Ow Joe". Her little feet quickly return to her aunt and as quick as she left she returns with the translation - "Bye Bye". I begin to smile and, when one of the coordinators tells me that all the children have now learned to say "Bye-Bye", it turns into a laugh.

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