Nov 6, 2020

Staying positive

Getting ready for Diwali
Getting ready for Diwali

I hope this email finds you and your loved ones well, safe and healthy.

We are now entering our eighth month of lockdown in Snehalaya. While the restrictions in India are easing, the numbers of cases of COVID 19 continue to rise and we are remaining cautious, keeping our doors locked to visitors and restricting the movements of our staff and beneficiaries. Everyone has been amazing taking care and precautions and working without a break in all that time to keep our beneficiaries safe. Despite our efforts we did still have a minor outbreak with eight staff and older boys testing positive for Corona. By immediately isolating and treating them they were able to recover and we were able to contain the virus. If we all know anything from Corona, it is we cannot let our guard down, especially when protecting those who are immune-compromised, including our HIV+ beneficiaries, young and old!

With the mental health of many being impacted by the pandemic, our other main concerns are reassuring, supporting and keeping our beneficiaries and staff active and entertained. With the festive season of Diwali starting next week it is a particularly hard time for them to be separated from their families. Usually we would be planning family get-togethers, parties and celebrations with staff and supporters. Instead we are planning special lockdown activities that will safely entertain our whole Snehalaya family and help them to feel loved and valued, including online family meet ups and socially distanced activities.

It may seem like the world is a very grim place at the moment but every cloud has a silver lining and, in the spirit of the season, we would like to share some of our positive news.

Due to the restrictions of Corona virus many of our sex workers were unable to work to earn their living in their usual way. As we already have a program to retrain and support them into alternative careers we are really pleased to report that since the start of lockdown a total of 38 of our female sex workers have started new jobs and businesses, hopefully leaving the world of prostitution behind them for good!

As well as being able to provide daily workers with our usual range of support services and food and ration kits, we have also been able to provide them with emergency financial aid. With very few of the poorest families highly dependent on their daily wage and no savings for situations like this, this funding has literally kept starvation at bay. In many cases, the families, realising that such financial aid is not reliable or sustainable, chose to buy extra provisions to start their own food stalls. This will not only see them through the current crisis but will provides a foundation to build on once life returns to ‘normal’.

Country-wide restrictions on a maximum of 50 people who can attend a wedding has reduced the average price of a marriage ceremony, which over 500 guests normally attend, from around US$1000 to US$200. While this is good news for lower income families who are taking advantage of the opportunity to save their savings, it has also unfortunately significantly increased the number of child marriages taking place. Fortunately, our Childline team has leaped into action, locating and preventing 67 child marriages so far and ot other projects are supporting the rescued girls in a range of other ways.

With our children locked in, we have focused on developing their skills and have recently opened a new school library, beauty training parlour and skills development workshop where our beneficiaries can enhance their education and learn vocational skills.

Times may be extra tough for us all at the moment but, since day one, Snehalya has always tackled the challenges facing our beneficiaries head on, and we are managing the pandemic in the same way. It’s thanks to your support that we can continue to evolve our services to provide practical support to those who need it most. We will beat this together and I am as always truly grateful that we are in this together, thank you.

A much needed break for caregivers who work 24/7
A much needed break for caregivers who work 24/7
Our new school library
Our new school library

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Oct 13, 2020

Top girl

100% pass rate for Harshal & our 10 Std girls
100% pass rate for Harshal & our 10 Std girls

As lock down continues here in India with school remaining closed, unfortunately despite our precautions we had a small outbreak of COVID 19 in our Rehab Center where half of our 200+ children are HIV+. Fortunately, this was predominantly among staff and older children who were immediately isolated and all of whom have recovered. It was a great reminder to continue to keep our guards raised to prevent a more serious outbreak. We hope you are also weathering the pandemic and continue to stay safe and strong.

It is at times like these that your support means so much. You are helping some incredible girls, half of whose mothers are sex workers and half who are HIV+. Despite the hardships they endured before they came to our shelter home they are confident and ambitious and take their studies very seriously. We are incredibly proud of their resilience and dreams to live the successful lives you are helping create through your belief in them.

We want to share the story of one of these amazing girls. Harshal is a 16 year old orphan who came to live at Snehalaya when she was five years old. With your support she completed her 10 Std at our Snehalaya English Medium School earlier this year. She is also an incredibly talented dancer who loves performing on stage at our annual events and festival celebrations.

In January this year she started complaining of a pain in her leg. We took her to hospital for examination by a doctor who misdiagnosed her condition. Sensing there was more to it we took a second opinion and it was recommended she have a biopsy to rule out cancer. As she is HIV+ it was difficult to find a doctor willing to do this and when we finally did the biopsy came back clear. The pain continued for Harshal and we realized that maybe the first biopsy had not gone deep enough and insisted that another one be done by another doctor. This one confirmed our worst fears, she had cancer in the bone of her leg and the best option was to amputate to prevent the spread to other parts of her body.

We had to share this news with Harshal just as Corona virus was beginning to take hold in India and also just before her 10 Std exams. She bravely accepted that her leg would have to be removed and said: “I would rather live without a leg than die”.

As we continued to search for doctors willing to treat her, she bravely fought the pain to sit her exams. Soon she was unable to walk, and was relying on a wheelchair to get around. Fearing COVID 19, we also took the decision to isolate her in our on-site hospital to prevent infections. With the country going into total lock down and limited medical expertise in our city to treat Harshal we started looking to Mumbai and Pune for help. The sad fact is that not many doctors are willing to take the ‘risk’ of operating on someone with HIV. When we did find a doctor in Mumbai, travel restrictions meant we were unable to reach the hospital.

Time was passing and the threat of the cancer growing and spreading was becoming very real. At last we found a doctor who recommended she undertake chemotherapy. Harshal endured this, losing her hair in the process but also the pain subsided. Unfortunately, the cancer was stubborn and the pain returned. Another doctor recommended another round of chemo which again Harshal took in her stride. Again this didn’t work. Finally, last week Harshal’s leg was amputated. She is now recovering in hospital and it is a testament to her fighting spirit that just over a week after her surgery, yesterday she managed to stand on own.

What is even more incredible is despite the pain and trauma she was going through during her exam period, is that she was not only one of our 10th Standard class that secured a 100% pass rate, she was also the top scoring girl achieving 72%.

We are so incredibly proud of her fighting spirit and determination, she has been smiling through the pain since her initial diagnosis and has been so patient over the eight months it has taken since diagnosis to finally get the treatment she so desperately needed. She is an inspiration to our other girls and last Saturday, in celebration of International Day of the Girl Child, her best friend Anuja requested to speak with this year’s 10 standard class to inspire them to study as hard as Harshal.

We know that children all over the world are struggling to continue their education during lockdown and although everyone is facing different challenges, we hope that Harshal’s story is an inspiration to them to do their best to persevere with their current situations. We also hope you take comfort that the support you offer is paying off with girls like Harshal focused on their futures despite the hardships they face. Thank you so much for giving your support to all our girls, it really does mean the world to them.

Harshal's incredible smile
Harshal's incredible smile

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Sep 17, 2020

Stop the stigma

Sleeping through the crisis
Sleeping through the crisis

We hope you are staying as safe and healthy as we are keeping our babies. Although the adoption process has started again in India, our center remains in lock down to non-essential visitors and is still over capacity. We remain extremely concerned that there will continue to be increased demand for the cots in our home as lock down restrictions continue and Corona cases rise across our nation. 

Given the current situation we thought we would share some positive news here. Earlier this year, just before lock down,  we celebrated a hugely significant event with our first ever HIV+ adoption. We are truly grateful to these adoptive parents who have truly secured a place in our organisation's history books.

In the early hours of a cold March morning, Alan and Kerry woke in their home in Ohio, USA, warmed by anticipation of starting their 8,000 mile expedition to our Snehenakur Adoption Center, where they finally arrived two days later. Although a little weary, adrenaline smashed away their fatigue as they finally came face-to-face with their son for the first time.

They have joined over 1,200 families that have made this journey since the birth of our adoption center in 2003. While the informal handover ceremony that follows signifies our usual official handover of an infant to its new parents, that day we were making history. Two-year-old Ashok was our first ever HIV+ child to be adopted.

Abandoned as a baby he has grown up in the loving care of our Rehabilitation Center, where his mischievous sense of humor and cheeky smile, which can light up a room, made him a hit and won over many hearts. Despite this we were unable to find Indian parents to adopt him so we put him forward for an international adoption.

When Alan and Kerry saw him they didn’t hesitate. To them, as long as Ashok has the right medication, his HIV status can be managed as easily as the health and development of their other two children. This is reflected by the fact that the process for adopting a HIV+ child in the United States is almost the same as for a non-HIV child. They recognise that no matter their age, race, colour or health condition, every child needs a family.

Little Ashok took to his new parents straight away and after their joyous ceremony, they faced their long journey home together where he would be united with his two older brothers, one adopted from Haiti and the other, the couples’ natural child.

Alan and Kerry’s actions have paved the way for other couples to do the same. After all, in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, one thing is for sure HIV is a much more manageable virus, thanks to the progress of Anti-Retroviral Therapy (ART). Using it correctly, a HIV+ person can expect to live a normal life span and treatment has advanced so much it is now possible for a positive couple to have a child who is negative.

We are so happy that Alan and Kerry have chosen to keep us posted on Ashok’s progress. He’s growing fast and is beginning to speak and understand English. Video clips show how he took like a duck to water on his first trip to the local swimming pool, learned to brush his teeth by himself and loves playing in the park with his brothers. The bright lad is now preparing for pre-school and we are so happy to see that he is a regular, happy and healthy little boy.

Alan and Kerry play down any sense of heroics, but they are pioneers, sending out a clear message to one and all that with the right care and love, an adopted HIV+ child can complete a family as equally as any other child.

There's more good news. You can help more babies like Ashok by giving today. All donations up to $50 will be matched by 50% as part of GlobalGiving's #LittleByLittle campaign. With matching on all donations, BIG change can come from lots of little acts of kindness.

Stay safe.

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