IN FEW WORDS
We take in children who are HIV-positive
All the children welcomed at the SBCH are HIV-positive at birth, and for the most part orphans (85%). We welcome a child upon the request of the social services when no other family member can guarantee they will receive an education. Children are welcomed irrespective of religion and caste. We take care of them until they are adults and have become able to take responsibility for themselves.
On the medical front, the children are regularly monitored at the local hospital in Pondicherry, where they have a monthly blood test for CD4 count and receive their antiretroviral treatment. We also have a nurse who works at the children’s home to ensure the children receive the appropriate medical care and to provide first aid when needed.
If there are ever complications, we take the children to see a specialist in a government or private hospital, such as P.I.M.S. (the Pondicherry Institute of Medical Sciences), where we can see pediatricians, neurologists, ORLs, orthopedists, occupational therapists, speech therapists, dentists…
Government run hospitals only carry out CD4 tests, which on their own are insufficient to properly evaluate the effectiveness of treatment and understand the evolution of the illness. For this reason, the Shanthi Bhavan Children’s Home also works in cooperation with a private clinic at Chennai, which specialises in treating children who are HIV-positive, called the YRG Care Centre. We send blood samples we take from the children to the YRG Care Centre twice a year for a viral load reading.
When necessary, the YRG Care Centre also provides second line treatment for the children, which is extremely difficult to procure from a government hospital. So far, we have had five children from the orphanage undergo second line treatment. This year three new children must also change treatment.
On a medical level, our ultimate goal is to enable the children to take on responsibility for their health themselves. Everything is put in place to help enable the children to do this. We make sure we explain their illness to them, the implications of having that illness, how their treatment works and the impact it will have upon them, and the ways in which a virus can be transmitted. We also teach them to cooperate with the medical profession and not to remain in a passive attitude of blind submission to doctors, as is often the case in India, where society is marked by hierarchical relationships.
An integral human education with a view to overall happiness
Care given at the Shanthi Bhavan Children’s Home is not solely medical. We have a team of teachers comprised of local employees and foreign volunteers who strive to give the children the means to lead a dignified, responsible, and happy life: our aim is to enable the children both to acquire personal autonomy and integrate into society.
The day-to-day pedagogical approach at Shanthi Bhavan Children’s Home can be divided into five areas:
- an education in the basic necessities of life: instruction in matters of hygiene and healthy eating; the acquisition of fundamental values, such as discipline and obedience, and a taste for effort and drive; respect for others and the ability to live together ;
- learning to be of service to others: participation in the life of the house (weekly chores, cleaning, cooking); older children being taught to take responsibility for the younger children ;
- academic and extra-curricular education: schooling in private or state establishments in Pondicherry, according to the needs of each individual; support and assessment; apprentiships for those who so desire (as electricians, joiners, mechanics); the organisation of extra-curricular activities at the orphanage (design, pottery, dance, choir) ;
- family atmosphere: separate houses for girls and boys, with activities held in common (meals, evening homework, chores, games, etc.); adults at the home balance discipline with affection; personal attention and an open ear;
- cultural and spiritual life: sport, games, art, yoga, lessons in Kalari (a martial art from Kerala) for the boys and Bharathanatyan dance for the girls, meditation, the celebration of Indan religious festivals.
The overriding feature of our educative approach is our aim to make the children feel they are at home in the Shanthi Bhavan Children’s Home. We strive to make it a place that is not perceived to be a clinic or orphanage, but rather their “Home”: a place where they can still behave as children and experience the joy of growing up, of discovery, of learning, of loving and of being loved.