Thursday 7 March 2013

Addressing human rights for orphans affected by HIV in Nepal

Children at the Punarbul Plus school.
Volunteer Rachel Tyne brings you this update on Punarbal Plus, a School in Nepal that provides educational opportunities and a supportive environment for HIV-positive and affected children, who are unable to access mainstream schooling due to stigma and discrimination. AFAO's small grants program funding supported core operational costs for the program from May 2008 until 2012.

Laxmi* is laughing and begging me to watch and count as she skips her little heart out in the grounds of the Punarbal Home. Her long salwar nearly gets caught in the rope each time and her slippers fling off her feet but she deftly jumps up and down until eventually dropping to the ground with excitement as she reaches 50.

It wasn't always like this for Laxmi. Only a year ago she was living in a small hut, ostracised by the rest of her extended family for fear she may infect the others with her illness - HIV. Her clothes, plate and other meagre belongings were kept away from the other children and she was fed alone in her hut.

Laxmi is a double orphan, losing both parents and her brother to HIV by the time she reached the age of eight. Laxmi wished to attend the local school but was not allowed due to her HIV status and was put to work in the family field despite her poor health. Without proper nutrition and medicine, Laxmi was frequently unwell with visible skin conditions which frightened her family and community even more.

Fortunately a local doctor assessed Laxmi and made arrangements for her to be transferred to Punarbal Plus in Kathmandu for proper support, love, nutrition and education.

(*Laxmi's name has been changed)

Rachel Tyne with staff and children at Punarbal Home, Kathmandu
I have recently returned from volunteering in Nepal, working with Laxmi and many other children who share similar stories. In 2007, a group of friends were motivated to action after reading the distressing number of reports of HIV-positive children being rejected from mainstream government schools.

Sensing the urgency of the situation and recognising that nothing was being done to address the issue they established Punarbal Shikshya Sadan, the first school in Nepal to provide an education to orphans affected by HIV in a stigma free environment. The school now educates, feeds and clothes almost 70 children.

The school follows the national curriculum as well as incorporating a range of psychosocial support activities to overcome the suffering and loss they have experienced.

In 2009, Punarbal Plus established the Home and Care Center for the most in need - orphans from priority districts in Western Nepal. Currently 26 children are accommodated at the Home;  nearly half of them are HIV-positive. It is the first place in Nepal where HIV-positive and non-infected children are living together safely and healthily.

This in itself will help overcome public discrimination and ill-informed stigma regarding the spread of HIV. The main aim is to provide a safe and enabling environment as well as essential care for children who have been deprived of their basic human rights.

The HIV epidemic in Nepal is not on the scale of that of its neighbor, India. However cross-cutting issues of poverty, lack of education, geographical isolation, poor medical facilities and labour migration do have a negative impacts and it is often women and children that bear the brunt of the disease. Children affected by HIV are one of the most vulnerable groups in Nepal. They have had no voice. Without love and guidance from family, these children are vulnerable to exploitation.

Punarbal Plus is also engaged in advocacy and education awareness activities. Once education campaigns succeed in reassuring the community that HIV-positive children should be re-integrated into mainstream schools, the school will eventually close. Punarbal has already worked closely with a local high school that has now enrolled five teenage orphans from the Punarbal Home.

Can you help?

Long term funding has now ceased. The organisation is desperately looking for new donors to ensure that the doors won't close on these children again. To feed, clothe and educate 70 children for one year costs as little as $25,000!

If you are interested in finding out more about the organisation or making a donation, please contact Punarbal Plus via their website or Facebook group.

Or if you are keen to be involved in upcoming fundraising events, please contact Rachel Tyne.

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