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UNICEF to educate Kerala about AIDS
George Iype in Kochi | October 30, 2003 14:54 IST
Concerned over the social ostracism of HIV-affected siblings Bency (8) and Benson (6), UNICEF has come forward to launch a series of initiatives to remove the stigma associated with AIDS in Kerala, which boasts of being a fully literate state.
The organisation's India representative Maria Calivis, who is on a visit to the state, held discussions with Chief Minister A K Antony on the project, which will be part of the child rights projects that UNICEF is implementing in various states in India. It will address health issues and those such as including information on AIDS in elementary education.
Bency and Benson, who lost their parents to AIDS, were turned away from four schools as teachers and parents joined hands to keep them away branding them as 'AIDS children'.
The plight of the kids, who also tested HIV+, forced the state government to set up a one-teacher school at their home in Kaithakuzi, a village in Kollam district.
In October, Hindustan Latex Limited, a Kerala-based public sector condom-making company, came forward to take care of their educational and other expenses. HLL's generosity came in the wake of a request from Union Health Minister Sushma Swaraj, who hugged the children and spent time with them during a visit in September.
"I am grateful to the financial help from HLL. It is also commendable that an organisation like UNICEF has come forward to remove the stigma that exists about AIDS even in a progressive state like Kerala," Geevarghese Johny, the children's grandfather told rediff.com over telephone.
Johny and his wife Sallykutty have "suffered the pain and agony of our children being treated like social outcasts."
Johny retired as a junior military officer in 1999 looking forward to spending time with his only daughter, Mary, and her two children. However, Mary and her husband C K Chandy died of AIDS in 2000.
Johny and Sallykutty are yet to recover from the shock. "We do not know how and where they contracted AIDS. Both died within a short span after discovering that they had AIDS," Johny says.
Since then, they have reconciled to the spectacle of their grandchildren grappling with health problems and social stigma.
Soon after their parents' death, Bency and Benson used to frequently suffer from fever. Medical tests revealed that they contracted HIV from their parents. Most of Johny's pension goes towards their medical expenses.
Johny and Sallykutty wanted their grandchildren to study like normal children. But the first school they approached rejected the children saying they had HIV.
In February 2003, Johny admitted the children to the government-run primary school at Kaithakuzi. But parents of the other 119 students at the school demanded their ouster.
When the social and parental opposition to their continuance in the school became unbearable, Johny pulled them out.
It was then that the Kerala government came to their help. In May 2003, it appointed a teacher to educate them in their home, but the expenses on their treatment continued to be a burden on their aged grandparents.
With UNICEF and HLL coming to their rescue, Johny and Sallykutty can finally heave a sigh of relief and look forward to better days.
More reports from Kerala