Eight-year-old Harsh is wearing a Santa Claus cap and running helter skelter, exclaiming, “I am wearing jingle bells.”
This is the child’s first Christmas celebration, the first time he is decorating a Christmas tree and while he still does not understand what Santa Claus means, the steady inflow of chocolates and cakes has kept the Christmas cheer up. Like him, 31 other HIV-infected children living at the Goregaon-based Desire Shelter Home are enjoying the company of visitors with whom they are celebrating Christmas.
Bharat Tamang, project director, says the count of donors has increased this season, specially on weekends.
“Donors are bringing in chocolates and cakes. Some are coming to just spend time with these kids and to play with them,” he said, adding that at least three persons have fixed an appointment on December 25 to celebrate Christmas with the children. As Riya (8) played with a Santa Claus doll, she claimed she had very few toys and would preserve the miniature toy. The NGO is a home for children infected with the HIV virus and with no one to look after them. While few have parents, the latter are unable to look after their children as they have entered the last stage of AIDS. Most are however orphans whose relatives are unwilling to provide them shelter.
“Most of the children’s parents have died due to AIDS and their relatives fear the disease will spread to them. Social stigma still continues in certain sections of the society. On occasions likes these, the kids feel loved as they get company,” said Rekha Rane, attached to the NGO.
Dineshbala, 29, visited the children with her friends on Wednesday to have a pre-Christmas party.
“When we give them gifts, the happiness and excitement on their faces makes me happy. That is the only reason why I wanted to get presents on Christmas for these children,” she said. The accountant and her friends had brought clothes, stationery and toys for the kids. They also spent the afternoon with the children, who lost no opportunity to go through their gifts and play with the visitors.
Supriya, a social worker with the shelter home, said it has been a week since donors are arranging small parties with games, Christmas trees, and cakes as a run-up to the festival.
Shamima Pereira, an advertising consultant, also visited the children on weekend.
“It feels satisfying to do something out of our routine work,” she said. She makes it
a point to meet the kids every week. At the shelter home, the children are also sent to nearby schools to encourage them to mingle with other kids.
With a high risk of immunological issues, they are given free treatment if required at Sion and Siddharth Hospital, regular screening of CD4 count and a proper diet to maintain their strength.