Jaipur, Sep 18 Two years ago 40-year old Anuradha, who is HIV positive, came to Jaipur with a frail body and weak mind clouded with uncertainty about her future. Today she is a "mother" to similarly-affected 25 children at Rays-Asha Ki Ek Kiran, a unique home where the caregivers themselves are patients.
Anuradha is not the only one providing motherly care to the children who don't have parents. Rays has hired four other women - all HIV positive - who take care of the children by giving moral and psychological support.
"Life had come to a standstill. I had no idea what to do after losing my husband to the disease; I left my home of a joint family with two kids and I started working for a hospital as a caretaker for AIDS patients as the qualified nurses were reluctant to come into direct contact with these patients," Anuradha told IANS.
"Life was tough but at least I could earn a living," she added.
That was when she was spotted by retired army captain Gurinder Virk, then a Gurgaon-based business executive, who persuaded her to be a part of a shelter house that he so earnestly wanted to begin.
"We had been to a state government orphanage once and saw that the people there were reluctant to admit a kid who was HIV positive. That very day I and my friend decided that we will open one such place where we will have only HIV-positive children," Virk, 57, told IANS.
"Hiring an HIV-positive person was definitely a challenge due to the still prevailing social stigma and unawareness about the disease. But I had full faith in Anuradha's capabilities and her experience with the hospital came as a huge help," he added.
Virk started the shelter home with two children in 2010. Today it has 25. "Most kids we have are from neighbouring places, especially from nearby villages," Virk said.
Besides providing for their lodging and food, Rays supplies medicines and also takes care of their education and extra-curricular activities.
"We have dance and music teachers visiting them every week. We also get Art of Living classes conducted from time to time," Virk said.
Running the home costs Virk Rs.150,000 a month, which is contributed by a dedicated band of 50 friends.
One such friend, Rashmi Kuchhal, who owns a restaraunt in Jaipur and is an entrepreneur, looks after administrative issues and visits the home for a few hours every evening.
Virk, who used to visit every weekend, has given up his job effective Oct 1 to devote his full time to the home.
"It is not a very organised or budgeted sort of a thing. We friends contribute as much as we can," Virk told IANS.
Why Jaipur? It is because Kuchhal was already established in the city and could kickstart the project.
The shelter house has five neatly decorated large rooms occupied by five children each, apart from a study room and a library. The five caregivers also live on the premises.
The children go to Rawat Public School, which fully supports Virk.
Talking about taking care of both the children's and her own health, Anuradha said: "Yes at times it is a little difficult but I have been able to manage well so far."
Speaking about children, she says with motherly anger: "Badmashi bhi to kam nahi karte hain na sabko jabardasti khilana padta hai (They are as naughty as other children; nor have we to force feed all of them)."
The children have to eat and take their medicines at regular intervals, but some of them try to take shortcuts. That's when Anuradha and the other four women have to take drastic steps - even force feeding if necessary.