My first impression of the children’s home was of all-enveloping warmth. From the moment I set foot in the centre, the affection of the staff and children enveloped me like a warm blanket. The kids cajoled and laughed with one another as I walked around the homes gazing into brightly decorated bedrooms and recreation areas. Three playfully mischievous boys brushing their teeth came out to see what all the fuss was about. I felt like part of the family immediately.
My decision to volunteer with the child-welfare charity Faith in Jaipur was an easy one. I first heard of their work from vegas2jaipur, an adventure film project teaching Faith’s children new skills in a fun, interactive way and showing the world that HIV is a disease, not an identity.
And there’s so much to do at the centre. Every day was different, but always eye-opening. At induction, I learnt about the history of HIV prevention and care in India and the level of treatment delivered by the team. This includes a tailored nutrition programme, guidance counselling and ongoing medical support with dedicated staff. Also included are twenty-four-hour welfare officers, tutoring, extracurricular activities including weekly cookery sessions and ‘away-days’. As well as alternative therapy including yoga and meditation.
I got stuck in and worked across multiple areas: running sports and craft activities, attending medical clinics, meeting government ministers and participating in tutorials and daily yoga sessions. I joined team briefings to learn about their dietary planning and monitoring activities, including Individual Care Plans. It was amazing to see the profound impact of the centre’s work written in both the data and the lives of their children. Their daily yoga classes alone could be shown to have a marked positive effect on the children’s wellbeing and development.
I learnt too about the project’s exciting plans for the future. Including their plan to begin work on a new building specifically catering to the needs of fifty HIV affected children. As diet is crucial to the children’s health they have collaborated with a botanist to look at adding homegrown Spirulina, the richest source of plant protein, to the children’s regime. Work is also afoot to cultivate a vegetable plot, maximising their intake of nutritious produce.
Only a few days into the project and my head and heart felt full. It was challenging but equally inspiring and rewarding work. The weekly days out gave us all a welcome change of pace. First up was the breathtaking Taj Mahal in Agra and the temple-filled town of Pushkar, home to the Bathing Ghats and the sweet scent of rosewater. Next was a Jaipur city-tour taking in its bustling bazaar and markets and stopping for a coffee in the Jawahar Kala Kendra, a red-stoned multi-arts centre full of performance students and creatives. Then to the stunning Jal Mahal, suspended in the Man Sagar Lake and the Amber Fort set high in the hills with its intricate designs and network of underground tunnels leading to Jaigarh Fort. The Jantar Mantar, Monkey Temple and Hawa Mahal were just a few of the other highlights from my short two-week stay.
All too soon I reached the end of my trip with a clear understanding of three things: HIV is an incredibly demanding disease. Intense stigmatisation and confusion is still rife in Indian society around its prevention and treatment. And the children’s centre, with its carefully curated programme, provides a positive and impactful response. I leave knowing I’ll return to see these children show the world that they are ready to shine.
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