New Delhi: “I was born as Noor Mohammad, but I was called Fatima in school. Life was very different, life was full of hardships,” says Noori Saleem, a trans-woman from Ramanathapuram, a town in Tamil Nadu. Ms. Noori lost her mother, when she was just four years old. At the age of 13, she fled from home as her father and his family tortured her and didn’t accept the way she was. Due to societal pressure and humiliation, she decided to join a group of Hijra hoping to be accepted. Bread and butter came from blessing others at their weddings, birthdays and births of children. But things slowly became difficult as it wasn’t a permanent solution. Ms. Noori wanted to take up a decent job for herself and make ends meet but because of her identity she was denied basic necessities at every step. This resulted in her taking up odd jobs for survival. She became a sex worker as she was left with no choice. Later, at the age of 34, Noori Saleem got to know that she was HIV+. In 1987, she was the third person in India to be officially recorded with the disease. Despite all the hardships, Noori Saleem became a beacon of hope for more than 300 children, who were born with HIV and abandoned. Today she is fondly called ‘Amma’ by them. Talking to team Banega Swasth India about her journey, she said,
I have only studied till 3rd standard, after that it was difficult for me to continue as it was getting hard to talk to anyone at school. In childhood only, I had lost both my parents. I was 8 years old when I started going with transgender community to people’s house for auspicious occasions. This was my life.
Talking about being HIV positive and her inspiration to adopt children with HIV, Noori Saleem said,
It was 1987, in December, when I got to know that I am HIV positive. I was working as a sex worker till then but once I was diagnosed, I made it my life’s mission to create awareness among the public about HIV/AIDS and ensure that HIV-affected children are not left behind. Since then, I have been living with the disease. It has been 35 years and I am still alive, still living the life on my terms. It is a big misconception, people think if one has HIV and AIDS, it is a big deal, they will succumb to the disease. But that is not true. It is simply an infection.
Explaining about her initiative, Noori said she began SIP Memorial that stands in the memory of her three closet friends – Selvi, Indira and Pazhani, who she lost to AIDS. Explaining what made her start the initiative, she added,
I had found a two-day old child left in the dustbin. When I saw her, I immediately took her to the hospital, where I was told she was HIV Positive. I realised her parents must have left her knowing she had the disease. I decided to take care of her. I got her operated thrice, saved her life, today she is 17 years old and is studying in class 11. When I first saw her, I got the purpose for my life and decided to dedicate SIP for the same purpose – saving such children’s lives who have been abandoned by their parents because of HIV.
Noori says she herself was an abandoned child with no parents, she couldn’t see the same fate for other children and that’s why she made this her life’s motto. Today, at SIP memorial there are more than 300 children whose lives have been transformed, thanks to the efforts of Noori. She adds,
Out of the 300 children, 58 females have been married off, they have their own children and are living a very happy life. Today, I am a grandmother and also a great great grandmother to many children. And all this feels very good. Today, because of me many children are alive, many children are leading a healthy and happy life. I am living for these people, not for myself.
Talking about the money and how she has kept the NGO going by providing facilities to children for free of cost, she said,
I had done enough savings with my previous work to start something for good. When I started SIP memorial, I had Rs 40,000 savings. Slowly and slowly with people’s donations, I kept the NGO going. Recently Milap organisation that helps people fund their dream for good, helped me raise 2.5 crores. Using that money, I soon plan to inaugurate a building solely dedicated for my children, I plan to give them good food, education and a safe place to stay.
Noori Saleem’s only passion in life is to build her own roof for the children she adopts and give them the life they deserve – full of hope and positivity. Till now, she has been living with her children in a rented property. She signs off with a message and said,
When I see the mirror now, I feel good about myself, I see the person who has built other people’s life lives and it is a great motivation. I hope to keep this going as long as I am alive in some way or the other. I just hope my dream of building a place, which me and my children can call home comes along the way I am hoping. Until then, I just hope that there are many more people like me who can come forward and do some good for those who are left way behind in the life.
NDTV – Dettol have been working towards a clean and healthy India since 2014 via the Banega Swachh India initiative, which is helmed by Campaign Ambassador Amitabh Bachchan. The campaign aims to highlight the inter-dependency of humans and the environment, and of humans on one another with the focus on One Health, One Planet, One Future – Leaving No One Behind. It stresses on the need to take care of, and consider, everyone’s health in India – especially vulnerable communities – the LGBTQ population, indigenous people, India’s different tribes, ethnic and linguistic minorities, people with disabilities, migrants, geographically remote populations, gender and sexual minorities. In wake of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the need for WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) is reaffirmed as handwashing is one of the ways to prevent Coronavirus infection and other diseases. The campaign will continue to raise awareness on the same along with focussing on the importance of nutrition and healthcare for women and children, fight malnutrition, mental wellbeing, self care, science and health, adolescent health & gender awareness. Along with the health of people, the campaign has realised the need to also take care of the health of the eco-system. Our environment is fragile due to human activity, which is not only over-exploiting available resources, but also generating immense pollution as a result of using and extracting those resources. The imbalance has also led to immense biodiversity loss that has caused one of the biggest threats to human survival – climate change. It has now been described as a “code red for humanity.” The campaign will continue to cover issues like air pollution, waste management, plastic ban, manual scavenging and sanitation workers and menstrual hygiene. Banega Swasth India will also be taking forward the dream of Swasth Bharat, the campaign feels that only a Swachh or clean India where toilets are used and open defecation free (ODF) status achieved as part of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014, can eradicate diseases like diahorrea and the country can become a Swasth or healthy India.