Showing posts with label AIDS Awareness. Show all posts
Showing posts with label AIDS Awareness. Show all posts

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Able and Willing.. Part 2

The Freedom Foundation
AIDS is an absolutely tragic disease. The argument about AIDS' being some kind of divine retribution is crap.
Visiting The Freedom Foundation, my team and I were reminded of how easily we can discriminate. 
If my earlier posts gave you a glimpse of what happens with a government with blinkers, our weekend with the children showed me how wonderfully well behaved and ordinary they all were.
Two weekends ago, Neetha and I decided to pay them another visit. And this time with a small surprise. We decided to cook some gulab jamuns knowing that the kids love sweets. We set about making 100 gulab jamuns, and took it to them while it was still warm.
Anyone who's given a child a surprise can vouch for how much fun and satisfying it is to see the smile on their faces.
Much like an advt for a credit card, their smiles were 'Priceless'!

The Friendship Foundation
The Team that made it possible!

The mentally challenged, a term that is often interchanged with mental illness can be grossly misleading.
Visiting and working with The Friendship Foundation this past week gave me a whole new appreciation of the way amazing work that mental care professionals do among the specially abled.
While I realised why it is so easy to ignore the specially challenged, I also noticed why we have very little progress among those who needed help.
Brushing aside the tons of research that has been documented, nations like India can definitely benefit if all that research is put to good practice.
Nearly all of the children that I met were very well behaved, had no airs about themselves and were ambitious. Most wanted a career in the army and the police.
The more severely affected children made me realise how easy it is for people to victimize them. Oblivious, they don't care and won't know if you are a scheming a**hole or a sexual predator. They would trust you with all the innocence of a 1 year old.
I guess as parents, we sometimes wish our children never grow up and remain the cute, cuddly baby that would gurgle, giggle and roll around in the floor.
But we so easily learn to ignore children who are trapped in a body of an adult.
Are we being fair?

Monday, September 26, 2011

Stigma and Prejudice

One of those terms that instill intense fear, loathing and segregation.
A form of apartheid that continues to hold entire societies in a vice-like grip.
No longer a fatal disease, but a controllable chronic disease, our fears are largely unfounded.
Being HIV positive no longer means the individual will look languished or ooze blood or even die in a few months. (Courtesy: Philadelphia)

Although I consider myself very informed about the disease and had very little prejudice against individuals who were infected, my most recent project to The Freedom Foundation was a wonderful eye opener.
Having heard of the ground breaking work they have been doing for several decades, when I visited them the past week, I expected to see a facility that was well funded and adequately supported. But what I saw was depressing. I could not believe how a government that showers billions of dollars on CWG would not want to fund a Foundation that is serving the less fortunate in our society.

A facility that cannot be terming sprawling by any stretch of imagination, I met two dozen kids. Twelve boys and eleven girls.
One would imagine being infected with the most famous virus of the past decades, they would be sickly, coughing and without any will/dream of their own.
But on the contrary, they are very much like you and me. Very ambitious, playful, every bit intelligent and bursting with energy.
But our collective ignorance and the stigma associated with some of the ways that the virus can spread has resulted in millions being denied the care they deserve.

The youngest, Mahalakshmi, at only a shade over four years old, is already a survivor of two brain surgeries. A slow learner, the Foundation has been tutoring her so that she does not miss out on a regular school curriculum when she joins school next year. Spirited and vivacious, she is a bundle of joy.
Or take for instance, Saraswati. Shy and reticent, at 14; you'd think she is going to be depressed and suicidal. No. A creative person, she is training to be a fashion designer.

Having spent two consecutive weekends at The Freedom Foundation, I've seen how being HIV positive can be living a life where you are always judged and labelled.
But what also struck me was how ordinary they are. Off the 23 that stayed at the Foundation, nineteen of them ranged from four to ten years old.
Every bit as capricious and ambitious, we never imagined we could have as much fun as we did. Some of my team who took part in the project on Saturday, made it for the project on Sunday too!

During the course of the day, I began to feel guilty every time I remembered how sick they might be. As a person, you tend to treat people who are sick with kid gloves. You'd want to stop them from running too much, or exerting too much pressure on themselves.
But the truth is, they don't want to be treated any different from how you'd treat your kid brother/sister.
They don't want free handouts. They want opportunities.
They don't want a free meal. They need healthcare that matters. They deserve research that will guarantee a better future.
Take them seriously, but don't discriminate them.
Recognize their right to live as full a life as you or I have.
The Team that made it possible

After my visit to The Freedom Foundation, I've learned my most important lesson - AIDS is no different a disease as heart disease and diabetes.
But it's sufferers can certainly benefit a lot more from a society that is willing to understand them and their disease a little better.

I've always believed that only a less informed individual can be prejudiced. While India is the cradle of civilization, looking at the plight of individuals with HIV positive, I get the distinct feeling that we need to set our priorities right.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Changing Lives.. Making a Difference

As a leader of yet another community service project, I visited an NGO that does some amazing service among the less privileged among us.

The Freedom Foundation, founded in the early '90s was born out of a need that two philanthropists, a Doctor and a De-addiction Therapist, knew existed.
Starting in a location that was way out of town at that time, the center initially treated (alcohol/drug) addicts who needed help. However, Dr Ashok Rau and Late Karl Sequeira soon realized the need for a center that would care for children who are HIV -infected.
Thus began, the current facility at Geddalahalli, roughly four kilometers from the Hennur main road.

What started with three students have now grown to over 25 children who live full-time at nine of its nicely furnished rooms.
Of course there are a lot of NGOs that do outstanding work in the field of HIV research and care, but what struck me about The Freedom Foundation was how bureaucracy and civic apathy can stunt even the most altruistic NGO.
Meeting with the director at the NGO, I could understand the pain - of not having donors, of not having sufficient funding, at fighting a loosing battle - and the determination. Take for instance, the case of two orphaned siblings. The three year old girl was HIV positive was forcefully separated from her seven year old brother, who was HIV negative. The government naturally believed the boy stood a better chance of a good life, gave him up for adoption. The Freedom Foundation, on the other hand believed that the siblings must not be separated, being as it is that the girl didn't have her parents and her brother was her only family remaining. After months of legal wrangling and much debate, the honorable courts did find sense in letting the brother be with his younger sister.

If being HIV positive was not a death sentence in itself, red tapism makes it even more exasperating.
Barred from receiving any foreign aid by archaic rules, I could feel the plight of survival.
To a government that believes being HIV positive is a punishment for your lifestyle choices, every victim is just another statistic.

I went around the in-patient facility, surveying and understanding the needs of the Foundation. Partly because I would be leading a team of 14 from my Company who will help 'Beautify the Centre' and make the day a little more joyful for the children and partly because I was moved by the plight of the Foundation that is visibly struggling.

As kids, they didn't choose to be branded, but as adults we can make sure they have a fair shot at education, a promising career and a family of their own. 
While many talk about equal opportunities, our schools, colleges and workplaces are not willing to walk the talk.
I was told how the warden and the Director had to pull strings to convince the institutions to admit the HIV -infected and -affected children to schools and colleges.
Isn't this another face of that prejudiced monster we call - Corruption?

While we are eager to spend thousands on wasteful birthday bashes, anniversary gifts and exotic vacations, what we forget to remember is how just $75 would take care of the costs of the ART for one child in a month. And it costs just $150 for an entire year's education for that child. Surely, we can afford this. Can't we?

If seeing is believing, the Freedom Foundation is indeed an eye-opener. I'd recommend you to visit them, even if you don't have any intention of serving their cause. I came away thinking of the many ways that we take our charmed lives for granted.

If you think you would like to contribute to a noble cause, please visit them here where you can contribute just about anything. 
Your change could make the difference we need.

Monday, June 27, 2011

The Obituary of Agonizing Sexperts

Old people read Obituaries. I read Agony Aunt and Sexpert columns.
No, not because I am looking for answers to a potentially embarrassing problem down south, but because I simply love the way we are.

Sample this for size:

Question 1
"I am a 42-year-old married man. My assistant in office is 35 years old and is unmarried. Recently she told me that she is getting married soon. She is quite open with me and discusses things with ease. She expressed her inhibitions regarding having sex with her husband after marriage as she still is a virgin. She says she is not sure how it will go with her husband, as she still does not know him very closely. She expressed that it may not be a very pleasant experience because she does not know how it feels. Coming to the point – she says she wants to have sex with me before marriage to experience it, and feels this way she would be prepared better for it, mentally and physically. She is attractive, makes me fall for the opportunity but I am not too sure if it would be a great idea, though she says, we will not take it further after she gets married. I am not sure if that would be possible or honestly, is she trying to get me into any kind of trap. Please advice"

Question 2
"I guess there is something wrong with my girlfriend. She hates even mention of physical relationship/sex. She is 23 and I of the same age. We have been in a very emotional love relationship for 5 years now but still she is always uncomfortable whenever I talk about physical relationship. This often leaves me frustrated. How do I get her to enjoy this with me? She always replies that she would be okay with everything after marriage but I doubt that. Please suggest what to do.

Question 3
"I am a married guy with two kids. My wife is very cute and attractive and we have a perfect relationship. Our sexual life is perfectly fine. The problem that I am facing is that I don't get bored of having sex. I like having sex with my wife and so does she but my desires are growing day by day. I have to admit that even after marriage, I am sleeping with other girls and they love it too. I am confused should I stop it or keep it the way it is. I know I am cheating on my wife but I can't help it. I started having sex at a very early age, when I was 14. I like to watch a lot of porn movies. Please let me know if this is ok or am I a pervert?"

And the crown jewel of them all..
Question 4
"I am in mid 30s and maried for the last 7 years. My sexual desire went up by many folds after my daughter was born about five years back. But due to my husband's high profile job, he rarely gives me any time. He's on tour and we get sex maybe once in four to six months. This pushed me into grave depression. Because of his calousness about my problem, I wanted to divorce him. My brother-in-law and his wife knew about this well and they were very friendly to me. When they came to know about my decision, they tried to convince me not to do so. I had to ask them for sexual favour as an alternative. Realising my determination about divorce, they finally accepted me in their sexual life. For the last three years I am enjoying threesome with them almost every week. Recently, my brother-in-law took a new job which needs him to move to a faraway city. Though I am very happy about his new job and career, this also brought back memories of my old depression days and now I'm thinking of looking for a new partner as my husband is too busy with his career. I tried a lot to talk to him on this but he didn't give me enough time. He doesn't want to go to a counsellor either. I am now thinking of divorcing him. I know this will hurt my brother-in-law and his wife. But I cannot control my desire and I need someone to help me on this. Am I making any mistakes or am I too selfish?"

What strikes me is that we have a lot of promiscuity going around. Something that we only saw on Oprah and random Hollywood movies. Suddenly we seem to be sexually liberated and stifled at the same time.

Infact, many of the questions that appear on tabloids and dailies seem to be coming out of folks that have little or no sex ed. But what's more disturbing is how these so called sexperts answer/counsel many of these questions. Now, I've never written to one (and hope to God I don't) but I sometimes wonder how many of these so called letters are really from genuine readers with problems. Journalism, a fine line between stating the truth and exaggerating the imaginary, in India leaves much to be desired. How would you rate the sex ed of the girl asking the question below?

I'm 24 and single but recently went to a party wearing my brother's jeans. The jeans was very tight at the crouch. Would I get pregnant if my brother had sex while wearing the jeans? Would I get AIDS?

I know. 24, single, partying and wearing your brother's jeans?! You're an anomaly. But anyways, what puzzles me is how less our youngsters know about HIV and other STDs.

Sex education is vital. I don't know how many teachers would be comfortable taking up the subject with youngsters with raging hormones, but it could certainly save readers like me a ton of LOL moment when reading such queries.

Would you stick to expert advice that a psychologist give you on a face to face session? Fat chance. Precisely why I think many of those people who ask these questions only ask them to publicize it, anonymously. Much like why men would secretly record their girlfriend/wife/friends-with-benefits perform sexual acts while pixelizing their own face, but making sure that the lady's face is crystal clear. Men would want to gloat about their sexcapades, even if it is anonymous. Never mind that they might get caught. They will at least have their 15 MB of fame somewhere on the internet.

My argument tonight is that we need to make sex ed mandatory. Our teachers must be trained to disperse knowledge in a manner that would not titillate but educate.
My sex ad teacher (who was really our Math teacher) was voluptuous yet boring as hell. Many of the backbenchers nicknamed her Chicago Bulls, after the shape of the uterus and because of her hour glass figure. I wonder how many of them really learned anything from her classes. However all that I know of the human reproductive system is what my Dad taught me.
Just as we have systems in place that check and certify our knowledge about a science or a subject, we need to have high school teens and young adults made sure they understand the system.
After all, almost all of them are going to use it at some point of their lives.

But if you are one of those who didn't have/attend your sex ed class, well I would like to quote a class mate of mine at College as a case in point.
Every time, he used to see a girl's navel, he used to get uncomfortably aroused. In public. When I asked him to try and explain why he thought he deserved to get an erection, pat came his response: "Well, what am I supposed to do when a girl shows her pu**y". He firmly thought a girl's navel was where his 'joystick' went in.
How he later became matured enough to marry and father two kids is something I would not want to know now, but we definitely need some good education, folks.

Until then, keep those questions coming.

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