PUTTING LIVES ON TRACK AFTER COVID
Sneha Charitable Trust (SCT) managed by the order of St Camillus, a Catholic religious order and an international Faith-based organization based in Bengaluru, is exclusively involved in the healthcare field for the past 450 years. Sneha Charitable Trust implements many programs to address the concerns and needs of children, youth and adolescents. These constitute an increasing percentage of new HIV infections both in developing and developed countries. The epidemiology of HIV infection among them requires a wide range of expertise to provide specialized primary medical, mental health, and holistic care services. But a glance at the HIV programmes in the world would reveal that first of all there is no scientific data of what happens and secondly, there is a dearth of clear strategies and programmes to take care of their future.
Snehagram in Krishnagiri, the second phase of Sneha Care Home is a model programme, which aims to fill this gap. It is a model vocational training and rehabilitation centre for adolescents and children living with HIV. The programme has the facility of accommodating 200 children and the children are provided with optimum opportunities for academic learning, vocational skill development, acquiring life skills, and developing values for leading a responsible sexual and social life. Under Snehagram there are multiple levels of programs that holistically address the needs of adolescents and youth and facilitates them to grow up to live a healthy life. The I’mPossible Fellowship, a unique initiative for peer mentors (HIV infected and affected youth leaders) supported by a network of professionals, uses a blended form of learning – in-person as well as digital technology to create advocates of change who lead healthy and productive lives and become role models themselves.
Using the Fellowship’s curricular structure, peer mentors (Fellows) at Snehagram connect to more than 1000 HIV-positive adolescents and youth in southern India through use of digital platforms (WhatsApp, Facebook, Google meet and Zoom) as well as in-person through camps to bring together the most withdrawn and socially forsaken youth, and those hungry for growth. Informational and psychosocial barriers are broken as the youth are exposed to critical Sustainable Development Goals concepts – Health, Education, Livelihoods and Gender.
Fellows identify specific areas of interest, conduct research and incorporate simple evidence-based daily living practices that enhance health and self-efficacy. The Fellows themselves are linked with senior professional, corporate and policy leaders who meet them regularly online to provide coaching and guidance. These critical linkages, from vulnerable disadvantaged adolescents to peer-mentors and leaders-in-training, to successful senior thought leaders, channel bi-directional learning that offers a positive, sustainable and scalable pathway to transform society. The partnership with Johns Hopkins Maternal and Child Health India Center, Johns Hopkins University has helped our program team and students not only to excel in what they are doing but identify the critical areas of intervention and work towards it.
From March 17-20th, the 15 youth leaders from the ‘I’mPossible’ Fellowship were in Snehasadan, Mangalore, to strengthen their bonds and revisit their interconnectedness and build their lives and impact more lives. These youth in their early 20s, who are part of the I’mPossible fellowship, were facilitated by Dr Ravi Vaswani, HOD, Department of Internal Medicine, and Secretary of Ethics Department of Yenepoya Medical College and University, Mangaluru; Dr Shweta Rasquinha, HOD of Master of Social Work, Aloysius College, Mangaluru; Fr Siby Kaitharan MI, Director Snehasadan; Dr Michael Babu Raj, Technical advisor and the key person of ‘I’mPossible Fellowship’.
Fr Teji Thomas MI, the coordinator of OVC (Orphan and Vulnerable Children) Program of Sneha Charitable Trust initiated by Camillians, Fr Jomin MI, Administrator Snehasadan, Sr. Bincy DSC, Director of Jeevadaan was present at the time of inauguration. The inauguration was meaningful as the fellows brought the pot and various elements needed for the plant to grow well. Lakshmikath, the program coordinator of the fellowship and representatives from the fellowship placed the pot and said it symbolizes the foundation and we the fellows are the foundation of I’mPossible Fellowship.
All the folks came forward and deposited various elements needed for the growth of the plants and said the importance of each element like stones, mud, dry leaves, and manure. The facilitators with the chief guest watered the plant and inaugurated the Training and Review of I’mPossible Fellowship. All the fellows who grew up in the shadow of Camillians under the umbrella of Sneha Charitable Trust in its various facilities like Snehasadan Mangluru, Sneha Care Home, Bengaluru and Snehagram, Krishnagiri were happy to extend their support to ALHIV (Adolescents living with Human Immuno Virus) throughout Karnataka.
“The session by Dr Ravi, helped me to understand that it is always important to put our health first, ensure good nutrition and healthy lifestyle, along with adherence, will help us to live a healthy life, even though we have HIV.” Shared Lakshmikanth, “Gender discrimination is beyond what you are? Every girl goes through this. It doesn’t matter, whether you have HIV or not, but with HIV, it is doubled. We need to ensure the safety and protection of the girls in the community and support them steadily,” highlighted Ambika “I was always afraid to face crises in my life, but today I understood that crises also provide us with an opportunity to live our lives better,” shared Babu.
The fellows also conducted a two days camp named “Gaalipata” which means to dream high for 78 children residing in Snehasadan and Jeevadaan, and the sessions were mainly focused on the topics to improve their personal lives and skills. The Children enjoyed the Camp and it was concluded with the cultural programs organized by the children. Fr Teji Thomas, Fr Sunil, Dr Michael from Snehagram and all the fellows of I’mPossible Fellowship appreciated the staff and well-wishers of Snehasadan and Jeevadaan for the warm welcome and arrangements done for the success of the program.
Snehagram, the adolescent phase of the comprehensive care programme by Sneha Charitable Trust (SCT) for the Children Living with HIV (CLHIV), was established in 2013. This programme is a result of SCT’s ardent pursuit of an advanced care programme exclusively for CLHIV. This programme which spans three phases envisages providing comprehensive care by addressing all the issues and needs of children pertaining to each developmental stage and to help them to have an independent living as they reach adulthood.
Vision and Mission:
Snehagram envisions to ensure the quality of life and future of the orphan and vulnerable children living with and affected by HIV and lead to healthy and productive adulthood by comprehensively addressing their needs on education, health, psycho-social and emotional well-being, vocational training, life skill education and value formation so as to enable them to live a healthy and happy life.
Snehagram follows a student-centred academic programme. Most of the children lack formal education as they were dropped out of school for a considerable time. Hence, children are facilitated to follow the curriculum of the National Institute of Open Schooling (NIOS) and take the examination conducted by NIOS at the secondary and higher secondary levels. Participatory and activity-based pedagogy is being followed.
Vocational Training and Community College:
Many children are involved in different activities and setting their lives to improve their future careers. Some of the programmes that are introduced for skill training are:
▪ Organic Farming
▪ Dairy Farming
▪ Chicken Farming (Separate units for broiler and indigenous variety)
▪ Data Entry (Reporting and Documentation)
▪ Mango Garden cum plant nursery (To train children in preparing the land, planting, maintenance, pruning etc.)
▪ Sales and marketing
Child parliament is a system of self-governance by children. INSA India, a partner of Snehagram, supported in setting up the child parliament system in Snehagram which is actively functioning since 2013 and has become an inspiration to many more organizations working for Children affected by AIDS (CABA) in the country. Under this system, children select their own parliament; Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister along with ministers for Law, Education, Health, Environment, Sports and opposition leader. Cabinet meetings and parliament meetings are convened regularly and children take an active part in managing and guiding the affairs of Snehagram
Since the beginning of the Snehagram programme, we have been following a three-pronged approach in healthcare; preventive, proactive and curative. The preventive aspect focuses on preventing our children from infections by keeping them mentally and physically fit through sports, running and exercises which have become a lifestyle itself for our children. These along with balanced nutritious diets play a pivotal role in preventive healthcare management. The Promotive care aspect of our healthcare is based on the belief “health is a state of complete mental physical and psychological wellbeing”. The onus is on creating a healthy mind in a healthy body. The curative aspect takes care of treatment and drug adherence. All the children, in compliance with the NACO guidelines, are currently on ART (Antiretroviral Therapy) and some of them are on second-line treatment.
I’m Possible Fellowship:
Adolescents and young people, between the ages of 10-24 years, number 460,000 [260,000- 680,000] among the newly infected with HIV. South Asia, with the largest numbers from India, accounts for 35% of all AIDS cases reported among young people of the age group of 15-24 years. Studies across the world have highlighted the transitional challenges of AYLHIV as there is a constant need for these young people to re-adjust to different phases of psychosocial development in addition to the challenges associated with HIV. Poor ART adherence increases the risk of HIV transmission and is the major predictor of not, Adolescents and young people, between the ages of 10-24 years, number 460,000 [260,000- 680,000] among the newly infected with HIV.
South Asia, with the largest numbers from India, accounts for 35% of all AIDS cases reported among young people of the age group of 15-24 years. Studies across the world have highlighted the transitional challenges of AYLHIV as there is a constant need for these young people to re-adjust to different phases of psychosocial development in addition to the challenges associated with HIV. Poor ART adherence increases the risk of HIV transmission and is the major predictor of not achieving adequate suppression of HIV replication that is required to minimize the emergence of drug resistance, disease progression, and death. As well, adolescents go through a critical crisis of self-stigmatization, as there is always a fear of other people finding out, especially at a time when families plan for their marriage.
The fellowship is a platform for HIV-positive children, adolescents, and youth to build their self-belief, work in a team supporting each other and create a process of change both for themselves and the children across the country. Sneha Charitable Trust hosts the fellow for a two-year fellowship program, wherein the support is provided to sustain the basic needs of life and technical support to lead a healthy and meaningful life, through a focus on Health, Education, Livelihoods, and Gender Equality.