Recently, Shelley Seale visited “Food, Shelter and School for AIDS Orphans in India.” Of her visit, she wrote:
How do you explain love? How do you begin to describe and comprehend the forces of compassion, faith and dedication that can so define a person that he will spend the hours of his life loving those whom no else stops to notice? Those whom he has no obligation to care about, no reason to work for, and no reward other than the knowledge that he is making some small dent in the endless tide of need.
The best you can hope to do is to stand outside a small, nondescript building on a dusty street in the middle of India, and watch two dozen once-homeless children rush out to greet the man who didn’t allow them to fall through the crack. Here in the state of Andhra Pradesh, where 30% of adults have HIV/AIDS, C.P. Kumar and his family took in 26 abandoned children. The epidemic has created a secondary human rights crisis – the orphaning of children on a massive scale.
These are the silent disasters. For the past fifteen years C.P. has cared for these children left behind in the wake of the AIDS epidemic. C.P. Kumar works as a clerk in the government during the day, but spends most of his evenings with the children.
For hours we played games and sang songs. Eager students brought me their schoolwork and stood by, nervously and proudly, as I pored over it. Most of the children were very young, ranging from four to ten years old, with only a couple of twelve or fourteen. The oldest was an eighth-grade girl called Sutrasini. When she wasn’t playing chess she followed me quietly, watching with the interest an almost-adult exhibits in the actions of a grown-up.
Sutrasini and the others attended school right down the street, and C.P. and his wife Mamatha - along with their own two sons, Prince and Boon - provided a loving surrogate family. Little Hearts was truly a place for children who had nowhere else to go. Often a teacher or other local official would bring a child to Little Hearts; in other cases C.P. heard of situations in the local community and offered to take in the orphans.
Every day C.P. poured through local newspapers for stories of orphaned or abandoned children. Sadly, they appeared all too frequently, each more heartbreaking than the last. One article appeared under the headline “How Long This Darkness?” Three brothers had recently lost their parents to AIDS and had only an elderly grandfather left to support them. The grandfather used to work as a field laborer, but that income was not enough to support three growing boys and he began to supplement his meager salary by begging. Local villages refused to take them in. The reporter ended the article by urging the government and NGOs to come forward and help them. When C.P. called about the children, he was told that he was the only person who had.
I asked C.P. how he could possibly accept the three boys – he was already well past capacity with the twenty-five children living at Little HEARTS. He gazed back at me for a long moment of silence before answering, “If not me, who? If not now, when?”
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