- Palawi started with two girls and today, it’s home to 125 children
- Palawi takes care of the health and education of its children
- World AIDS Day 2021: NGO Palawi completely runs on public donation
New Delhi: “Six years ago, at a railway junction, around 80kms away from Pandharpur town in Solapur District of Maharashtra, a sweeper saw a dog running with a plastic bag in his mouth. There was blood dripping from the polybag. The sweeper scared away the dog and took the polythene only to find a newborn baby inside it. The baby was bitten by a dog and was bleeding; he was immediately taken to a hospital where he tested positive for HIV. The doctors clearly stated that the child won’t survive until and unless there is someone to take care of him”, recalls 69-year-old Mangal Shah who brought the baby to her home ‘Palawi’. Ms Shah took care of the child like one of her over 100 children. Today, the boy is healthy and studies in class 1.
Palawi is a care home for orphan children living with HIV and was established by Mangal Shah in March, 2001 after Ms Shah and her daughter Dimple brought home two girls. Sharing the incident of the night that gave birth to Palawi, Ms Shah says,
I and Dimple were coming back from one of our regular awareness drives to educate sex workers about HIV and AIDS. On our way, an old man stopped us and took us to a hut nearby. There we saw two girls – 10 months and around 2-year-old. The old man was their grandfather who on enquiring said, ‘the girls have HIV and their parents have died of the same disease. We don’t want to take care of them.’ Children had tattered clothes on their body and it looked like they haven’t eaten in a while.
Ms Shah and Dimple approached hospitals and NGOs with a request to provide for the two girls but faced rejection because of the stigma attached to HIV. It is then the duo along with their family took the decision of nurturing HIV-positive children and started Palawi.
Interestingly, Ms Shah has been working for children for almost four decades now. After her marriage in 1970, Ms Shah spent the initial few years building her own family. Soon, she approached a nearby orphanage and offered her services like taking care of children and their hygiene including giving them a bath and massage. She went on to work with a government hospital as a volunteer, running a soup kitchen for hapless women, providing services as a nurse to leprosy and HIV-positive patients. There she saw the cruel face of HIV/AIDS and the stigma attached to it.
Back then HIV was thought to be a disease that could transmit by a touch of a hand. People living with HIV were often ostracised. To bust myths and break free of stigma, Dimple AND I used to create awareness on a small scale by means of street plays and answer simple questions on HIV – what is HIV, how is it transmitted, how can we protect ourselves and how can we stop the transmission. In 1996, we started educating sex workers. We would also visit villages located around Solapur district, gather people in a group and clear their doubts, says Ms Shah.
The HIV warriors themselves faced discrimination when they started Palawi in 2001. The duo couldn’t find even one room to start a care home and when they did find a place, the protests began.
We were asked to leave the place but since we had a contract of 11 months, we didn’t move out. The landlord scared us by cutting the power and water connection. None of the villagers came to provide support. Some people even came to persuade me to abandon these girls near a forest and leave them to die. The next four to five years went switching places until an article written by Praveen Davane, Principal of a college, helped us generate funds and purchase our own space, shares Ms Shah.
However, in the past two decades, Ms Shah has witnessed a change in outlook towards people living with HIV. From people not giving any kind of donation to Palawi to doctors not providing treatment stating ‘why to invest in the health of children who will die sooner or later’, to now visitors spending time with children.
Till 2006-2007, we faced major difficulties even in feeding children. My brothers, sons and son-in-law supported us financially. Today people donate food, clothes and sometimes even basic medicines. We still need money for daily operations and treatment of children. The government provides ART (Antiretroviral Therapy) medicines but ART has side effects like nausea, dizziness, diarrhoea, for which the government doesn’t offer anything, says Ms Shah.
Currently, Palawi is home to over 125 children and all came legally, via the police. Some were found in a garbage bin, at a cremation ground and some were found begging by the police, informs Ms Shah. The children at Palawi lead a normal life and their daily routine involves yoga and prayer, followed by school, playtime, and miscellaneous activities. Children are also trained in activities of their choice like a dance trainer is arranged for those willing to learn dancing.
After a child turns 18, they are free to move out of Palawi and live on their own or work outside while they continue to stay in the care home. For instance, 22-year-old Kavita Palawi, an undergraduate student who has also done a course in computers handles the administration and banking work of the NGO. She plans to continue supporting her home and family.
Similarly, 17-year-old Shubhangi, wants to become a doctor, like the one who comes to treat her and fellow children, she says. During the pandemic, when schools were shut, Shubhangi ensured that the learning continues and taught children of classes 3, 4 and 5.
Just the way someone took care of me when I was left alone at the age of 3, I want to take care of others and support them, says Shubhangi.
The HIV And AIDS Situation In Maharashtra
According to India HIV Estimates 2019: Report prepared by NACO and ICMR-National Institute of Medical Statistics (2020), Maharashtra had the highest estimated number of people living with HIV (3.96 lakh). Of this, 3.83 lakh cases are among the population aged over 15.
The state was estimated to have the highest number of new HIV infections in 2019 (8.54 thousand). However, a decline of 38.38 per cent in new HIV infections has been reported since 2010. The highest decline of 61.8 per cent has been seen among children below 15 years.
NDTV – Dettol have been working towards a clean and healthy India since 2014 via 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, that 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.