BOVA volunteers will mark World Aids Day today by attending a special Mass, where they will remember all those affected by HIV/AIDS, and support them through their prayers.
Karuna, aged 19 years, spent a year volunteering in the Tiruchy Province in India from September 2013. She spent nine of those months working with boys affected by this disease in Salem - and below she shares some of her reflections from that time.
Before I did my overseas voluntary work in India in the rural area of Salem, Tamilnadu, I admit that I was very ignorant in knowing what AIDS actually is, and how it is passed on. But I was also very curious to learn more about AIDS and how people living with the condition go about their day to day lives. I had only ever heard the negative stigma and stereotypes that comes with it - such as the only people who could have it was people in developing countries and homosexuals, which I learnt through the stories from our mass media.
The community in Salem was astoundingly beautiful, full of agriculture and tranquil. The fathers and brothers were caring, cheerful and kind. The aim of the community was to instil positivity, hope and courage to those living with HIV/AIDS, and to help with building their lives outside the care home, such as finding employment, college degrees and homes. Activities varied from sports day, dance/acting competitions and creative workshops to engaging in agricultural work and lots of games!
What I learnt most about HIV/AIDS from my time in the community in Salem, was not only the physical side of AIDS, but also the mental and emotional side. I learnt just how a positive attitude can change someone's perception on life, and the way they live. To instil a positive attitude is vital for the child living with AIDS because they face a number of hospital visits, bouts of sickness, and also the stigma that comes with this disease. The families are affected too, in a way that they wouldn't want to be near the children in case they could "catch it", which stems from a lack of knowledge and understanding about the disease, which then leads to abandonment and neglect. This leaves the children feeling vulnerable, with low self-esteem and confused. Therefore positive vibes and words of encouragement and hope are vital for the children living with HIV/AIDS whether it is mentally, emotionally or physically.
It was eye opening just how much I learnt from my time at the Don Bosco Care Home. I now understand what AIDS is and how it can affect children and families, and the negative stigma is long gone, for me. But I feel what we can do to help address the issues, would be to eliminate the negative stigma and raise awareness and educate people on the effect AIDS can have.