The stigma around people with HIV+/AIDs is much prevalent in spite of the various awareness programs that are run by Governmental organizations and NGOs.
Rays-Asha Ki Ek Kiran is an NGO that provides shelter and other facilities to the children with HIV+/AIDs in Jaipur, Rajasthan. Headed by Gurinder Virk and Rashmi Kuchhal, Rays was set up in 2010 with 3 children, and now it has two orphanages providing shelter to over 50 children with HIV+/AIDS.
Following the footsteps of Rashmi is her granddaughter Nandini Kuchhal. At 14, Nandini started the campaign, FightRed, to fight the social stigma and discrimination against HIV+/AIDS children.
Nandini became the first Youth Venturer from Rajasthan to be awarded by the prestigious Ashoka Foundation.
In conversation with Oh My Rajasthan!, Nandini shares how she has been closely associated with kids with HIV+/AIDs from an early age. Her impetus to start the FightRed campaign came after seeing the plight of children with HIV+/AIDS.
Tell us something about your background? Like your education, schooling, field, time in Jaipur?
Hey, so I’m in grade 10 and I study in Jayshree Periwal International School. I’ve been bought up in Jaipur. I am a squash player and athlete.
What is FightRed campaign all about?
FightRed is campaign completely revolving around HIV positive people. We work to empower them, build their confidence and include them in the society so that they don’t feel any different than the HIV negative people. We also work to eradicate the stigma and increase the awareness that exists related to HIV.
What motivated you to start it?
There was a HIV+ child called Hanuman who had severe malnutrition and his liver was completely destroyed. His parents passed away due to AIDS and his responsibility was passed onto his villagers. They used to give him opium and alcohol so that he would sleep and not disturb them. Eventually he got a habit of these substances and underwent withdrawal symptoms. That made me realize how the lack of awareness is hazardous for these people and how that needs to be changed.
How you raised the amount?
I put up my project on an online funding platform called ‘DREAMWALLETS’ and through that platform I manages to raise the amount.
How does it feel to be Rajasthan’s 1st Youth Venturer and among the 18 Social Innovators in India?
Amazing, but pretty scary. It makes me realize how expectant people are towards me and that i need to surpass their expectations. I never knew I could achieve all these statuses. This recognition is an opportunity to inspire more students and teenagers from across Rajasthan to become changemakers. I aim to work with city’s schools and youth groups across Jaipur to build a small ‘changemaker movement’ in the city.
You are so young, how did you manage all this with your studies?
It was tough, it still is. I feel i can’t give these children enough time or i can’t give my studies enough time but i don’t know, somehow i work it out.
Any difficulties you faced during the campaign?
People refused to listen to me thinking that I was such a small kid. People still asked me to wear ‘gloves and masks’ even after i told them about how HIV is actually spread.
What are your future plans?
I want to pursue psychiatry, i want to help these children and people accept their identity of being HIV+. As for FightRed, I want it to grow nationwide and help NGO’s and HIV+ people all across the country.
For the more inclusive environment, Nandini urges all the schools to tie-up with the NGOs working for children with HIV+/AIDS and hold workshops where children with HIV+/AIDs can interact and play with other children. It will not only instill confidence in the children with HIV+/AIDs but will also help in removing the stigma around HIV/AIDS amongst other kids.