Breaking the Silence

Many thanks to Suneetha Giridhar for this guest post on the occasion of World AIDS Day.

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Imagine the following scenario faced by a girl in India:

Married as a young teenager, a mother one year later, abused,  battered, and deserted by her husband at eighteen, back to her parents’ house by nineteen,  given away in a second marriage to yet another alcoholic, irresponsible husband, and five more children by twenty-eight.

Could it get worse?

Widowed and diagnosed with HIV by 30.

This sounds like a Bollywood film plot, but unfortunately, it is not.  This is the real life story of Kavita (name changed), a member of the AIC community.

When you meet Kavita, you would never guess all of this about her. She is hardworking and eager to please; an introvert who keeps to herself.  But for those who are close to her, the pain and worry is visible, the eyes are tinged with sadness, the frailty of a woman whose immune system is compromised is evident.  Compelled by the economic reality of maintaining a home and feeding her five children, Kavita has found solace working at AIC. Kavita’s day starts at 5:30 a.m and is a flurry of activity until the time she rests her head on a pillow at 9.00 p.m.

Prior to seeking out AIC, Kavita was resigned to her fate of dealing with an alcoholic husband, and after his death, moving into her mother’s home where 12 family members occupy a small one-room hut.  With AIC’s help, Kavita has managed to earn a living, secure a bank account, and set up a small scale industry to make more money to meet her basic needs.  She is also receiving emotional counseling through AIC to cope with a condition that is couched in secrecy, as disclosing her HIV+ status would possibly ostracize her from the community.

Even as I write this story, Kavita is feeling the effects of HIV; her health is now declining and she is unable to devote her time to multiple jobs.  As I interviewed Kavita for this article, I posed a single question to her:  “What is your biggest desire today?  If you could have anything what would you want?”

Her answer did not surprise me.  “All I want, didi (sister), is for my kids to have a better life.  My time is done now.  I want them to see me as a worthwhile mother and even though their father was useless, I hope that I can do something for them.”

As a mother, Kavita is driven to provide the best for her children.  The cynic may wonder why one would choose to have five children with no means of supporting them.  But Kavita is part of a community that has been historically mired in poverty, lacking education, closed off to the outside world, and resistant to family planning.  The Waghri community is one where a fatalistic attitude pervades and it is not uncommon for couples to have at least four or five children.  Any change, especially with regard to taboo subjects like family planning, takes time and effort.

But change is in the air, and you can see it in the eyes of the children who have come under the loving umbrella of AIC.  The staff and volunteers that comprise the AIC family dream of a better day for these children and communities.  There are stories of children who were fortunate to have landed in AIC’s lap who are now pursuing higher education in India and as far as Germany.  They have turned their back on ignorance, and have begun to deliberately change their destinies.

With ongoing support and care from AIC, we hope that Kavita will be able to watch her children grow up to become the next generation of leaders: educated, skilled, and ready to transform their community.