Augustine Veliath, who was a Communication Specialist with UNICEF for 23 years is India's leading voice on health communication and child participation
My name is Latha but my father used to call me Pushpa. I am 17 years old. I live in Krishna District of the Southern Indian State of Andhra Pradesh. I will soon be ready for college, having completed my higher secondary education. I have never failed my examinations. Neither have I repeated a class.
“Your names are poetic”, my favorite Telugu teacher used to say. My name means a creeper. The other name indicates a beautiful flower. Creepers need support of a strong, sturdy and stable tree or pillar near it. Otherwise, they do not bloom. That support, is what we, as a family always missed.
When my father named me Latha and called me Pushpa, he probably expected to be around to be that dependable support by me as I grow up.
This was not to be. My father died when I was seven and my brother Bhasker was three. Since then, my mother Parvati, has borne the brunt of bringing us up, educating us, and caring for my brother and me. Both my brother and I are on ART.
My mother works as a domestic servant in the neighborhood, washing clothes, cleaning utensils and doing other chores in well to do homes.
We have relations. But they do not visit us.
There is one thing that I want to do, complete my education and find a job, as early as possible so that I can relieve the burden of my mother and give her some rest. She has not known what rest is, for many years in her life.
That strong, stable and sturdy support that I am looking for in life walked into our home four and half years ago. She said her name was Sheela. She was a post graduate and extremely knowledgeable. What is more important? She knew what stigma was. Like my mother, my brother and me she too was HIV positive.
‘Sheela Akka1 ’, that is what other children and I called her as she was older than us, said she was an Out Reach Worker of a large national level care and support programme called Chaha.
Chaha, I know, is a Hindi word that means a wish. For us children and our families Outreach Workers like Sheela were truly a wish that came true.
Sheela Akka knew everything and everyone. She knew about HIV. She also knew what our entitlements are, and where the facilities were and who could help us. She created support groups among ourselves, fought her way through the local administration to find more help for us and to get us what is ours legally. She persuaded more groups and people to be our support.
Sheela Akka cared for 83 children were like me. There were……. such outreach workers in Chaha project.
I once asked her how come she knows so much about everything. She said “we are constantly trained, mentored and monitored by our project Chaha”.
This is what we children need. Outreach workers, who will reach out to us and programmes that make such outreach work possible.
(All names have been changed.)
NACP IV: The National AIDS Control Organization (NACO) has initiated the process to start the next phase of National AIDS Control Programme called as NACP IV which is planning to adopt the inclusive, participatory and widely consultative approach similar to that of NACP III and further build on the successes of the robust NACP III and ensure completion of the reversal of the epidemic through enhanced prevention linked with care support and treatment.
1Term meaning elder sister