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Impoverished Children Celebrate Dashain
Dashain is the biggest and most important Hindu festival in Nepal (over 80% of Nepalis are Hindu). During this 15-day celebration, people all over Nepal make ritual offerings to the goddess Durga and receive tika. Tika is a paste made from a red dye, yoghurt, and rice. Elders generally apply it to the forehead as part of a blessing. People from all over Nepal, and Nepalis from all over the world, return home to celebrate with their families.
Dashain can be a particularly difficult time for children living with HIV/AIDS, since many of them have been abandoned and stigmatized. The Nepal Youth Foundation believes that children have a right to a happy childhood and to take part in their cultural traditions. The NYF and the New Life Center form a new family with the patients, allowing HIV/AIDS-positive children to reclaim their childhood.
HIV/AIDS in Nepal
Even though national and international efforts to combat the spread of HIV have blunted the HIV/AIDS epidemic, a recent estimate shows that over 50,000 Nepalis currently are living with HIV/AIDS. Those who are infected face stigmatization and discrimination. Children who contract HIV/AIDS are forced from their schools while women may be abandoned by their husbands and families. This stigma leads many to not seek testing and attempt to hide their symptoms. The U.N. has estimated that more than 80% of Nepalis with HIV have not been diagnosed.
Thanks to generous donors like you, the Nepal Youth Foundation has paved the way in caring for children with HIV/AIDS. Children with HIV/AIDS come to our New Life Center suffering from malnutrition and opportunistic infections. The New Life Center provides them with vital medical treatment while educating their caretakers, most of whom are also have HIV/AIDS, about living hygienically and cooking nutritious meals. This training helps them to lead fulfilling lives and reduces the risk of developing the diseases that can make HIV develop into AIDS. During the time spent at the New Life Center, the children and their caretakers receive, free of cost, lifesaving medical treatment, food, and housing.
During the nearly seven years it has been open, the New Life Center has served more than 140 HIV-positive children. These children are able to live the happy childhoods that HIV/AIDS would take from them. Last year, 70 children were helped, while their mothers joined a series of classes taught by NYF nurses and dietician to learn about nutrition, health, and home-based care of their HIV-positive children.
The New Life Center can house 18 children and their guardians, who live there for several months. It is the only facility in Nepal that provides comprehensive and holistic care for children with HIV/AIDS.
In addition to malnutrition, children admitted to the New Life Center also suffer from opportunistic infections, such as tuberculosis and hepatitis. Instead of just treating their symptoms, the Center uses an innovative, three-pronged approach of clinical, nutritional, and psychological therapy. On the clinical front, patients receive anti-retroviral drugs to combat the HIV virus. Additionally, their other infections are treated. Second, a nutritionist plans complete, well-balanced diets. Finally, professional counselors work with the children and their parents to boost their self-esteem and cope with the stigma of living with HIV/AIDS.
To help the children and their caretakers live healthy lives after leaving the Center, the caretakers attend training sessions to learn about nutrition, sanitation and hygiene, the children's dietary needs, reproductive health, and illnesses that people with HIV/AIDS commonly contract. The goal is for the caretakers to be able to keep their children, and themselves, as healthy as possible by avoiding dangerous diseases and eating well-rounded meals using inexpensive, locally available food. For their part, the children participate in a number of enrichment activities, such as celebrating Nepali festivals and visiting the zoo.
After several months the patients' health problems have been alleviated, and their caretakers have been fully trained, they are healthy enough to return home. Many are able to live productive lives for years by practicing what they learned at the New Life Center. If their health worsens and they need additional treatment, which can sadly happen with HIV/AIDS patients, they can return to the Center for free follow-up care. The program truly gives new life to children living with HIV/AIDS.
Funding for the New Life Center comes from a variety of sources. In addition to donations, the Center's staff has taken the initiative to raise money from a number of sources. They print and sell t-shirts and postcards, and even have made use of two donated cows. The cows are a source of nourishing fresh milk for the children, and excess milk can also be sold to generate additional income.
The New Life Center’s comprehensive care model is a key to its success. Many children arrive at the Center with full-blown AIDS, including illnesses like tuberculosis, malnutrition, and hepatitis, and return home with only HIV, ready to go to school and enjoy a happy childhood. If children with HIV live hygienically, eat a nutritious diet, and try to avoid infections, they can typically expect to lead full and meaningful lives for around 25 years. By that time, it is likely that additional treatments will be available to extend their lives even further.
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