Your search keywords:

Transforming the lives of HIV-infected children in Nepal

Transforming the lives of HIV-infected children in Nepal

In the heart of Kirtipur is a place of hope and compassion. Baby Life Home and Saphalta HIV Shikshya Sadan, a non-profit organization founded by Raj Kumar Pun in 2011 and 2012, serves as a shelter, care center, and educational institution for children infected with HIV in Nepal. The organization provides children not only with basic necessities like food, shelter, and medical care but also education and emotional support.

Led by Pun, the 41-year-old founder and chairperson, the team consists of seven members. Uma Gurung serves as the founder vice president. “Before establishing this organization, we were all involved in different professions. I was a teacher. Others were engaged in businesses or had steady jobs,” says Pun. Despite their diverse backgrounds, they shared a common passion—they wanted to work for the marginalized community and make a positive impact in society.

The concept of Baby Life Home took shape over 15 years ago when Pun came across a daily newspaper headline ‘HIV-infected children in trouble’. Moved by a deep sense of empathy and a desire to help these children, Pun embarked on a mission to provide assistance. Along with his team, he traveled to Dang, intending to provide basic necessities such as food, clothing, and stationery supplies. But what they encountered there was something they could have never imagined.

Upon arriving at the shelter, Pun and his team witnessed a heartbreaking reality. “The children’s families and relatives were mistreating them. Other children weren’t allowed to play with them. It was heartbreaking,” says Pun. The seeds of Baby Life Home were thus planted. Pun wanted to give these children a loving home. He wanted them to have a safe space.

However, the journey was challenging. No one wanted to rent out their homes to them due to the many misconceptions they had about HIV transmission. So, they created a temporary shelter at Gurung’s residence. Later, Pun decided to keep the children in a house he had bought for his parents. “We started the shelter with four children and the number had gone up to ten by that time,” he says.

Many schools were hesitant to admit the children due to fears of stigma and discrimination. “Initially, we believed that providing proper medical care would enable our children to be accepted into any school. But this assumption proved wrong as neither private nor government schools were willing to take them in,” says Pun.

Their decision to start Saphalta HIV Shikshya Sadan was born out of this reality. They wanted a nurturing and inclusive learning environment where HIV-infected children could thrive academically, socially, and emotionally. Saphalta HIV Shikshya Sadan is Nepal’s first school and orphanage to openly support education for HIV-infected children without concealing their HIV status, ensuring their right to education in a caring environment.

In addition to being infected with HIV, many children at Baby Life Home also suffer from various other diseases and health conditions. Some have heart diseases, while others suffer from epilepsy. “We have never solicited donations specifically for medical purposes. While money is important, we are grateful when people willingly contribute, donate food, or celebrate special occasions with us. We graciously accept such contributions,” says Pun.

To manage the children’s condition, Baby Life Home procures Antiretrovirals (ARVs) from Teku Hospital which provides them free of cost to meet the needs of HIV-infected children. These medications, donated by the World Health Organization to the Nepali government, are acquired according to the specific requirements of each child ensuring that they receive the appropriate dosage and combination of medicines tailored to their medical needs. Each child’s treatment is carefully monitored, with regular assessments of effectiveness to ensure optimal outcome.

Recognizing the challenges and trauma these children face due to their health condition and societal stigma, at Baby Life Home, counseling plays a crucial role. “Life is transient, and people don’t only die from HIV/AIDS. So, it’s not worth worrying too much about death. Instead, we should strive to live our lives to the fullest, enjoying each moment,” says Pun “Even though we may not have given birth to them, we are their parents and we want to provide them with the life they deserve.”

Pun has a double masters’ degree in sociology and political Science, demonstrating his commitment to understanding the complexities of society and governance. He has also completed a CMA (Community Medicine Assistance) degree, further enhancing his understanding of healthcare and medical issues, particularly in the context of HIV/AIDS.

Pun is thankful for the government’s assistance. “Our former prime minister, K P Oli, came to know about the organization and created a substantial fixed deposit for us. We are able to use the interest generated from this deposit for the children’s medication and basic needs,” he says. Additionally, the government has granted them access to Social Security Allowance as well.

Pun believes there is more the government can do for the welfare of HIV-infected children in Nepal. It’s important to raise awareness and dispel myths and misconceptions about HIV/AIDS, he says.

Pun’s dedication has turned out to be fruitful. The organization is currently providing services to over 100 HIV-infected children—a testament to the power of compassion and community driven initiatives. Some of the children are studying to become doctors, while others have graduated with degrees in arts and social work. This, Pun believes, is a testament to the resilience and determination of these children, who despite adversity continue to pursue their dreams and ambitions with unwavering courage.