"These Children Won't Give Me HIV..." — Datta Bhau | Milaap
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"These Children Won't Give Me HIV..." — Datta Bhau

I was working at Beed District Hospital as a lab technician, when I met Parvati Bai. She had come in for HIV tests, after losing her husband to the virus. When she and one of her children tested positive, she crumbled before me, breaking down in tears. Seeing the depth of her pain, the despair in her eyes, I couldn't help but imagine if it happened to my family.

I was so moved I decided to take her and her children to my government quarters, where my wife and I fed them and gave them fresh clothes. It was then that I decided to start Infant India. When Parvati Bai fell seriously ill a few days later, and eventually passed away, I knew there was no turning back.

‘Parvati’s story strengthened my determination to help families affected by HIV’

My name is Datta Bargaje, but everyone calls me Bhau. I was born into a humble, land-less family in Takli, Beed, Maharashtra. After completing my BSc, I obtained a degree in Medical Lab Technology (DMLT) from a government medical college. My journey led me to become a Government Lab Tech at a hospital in Bhamragarh, a region known for its dense forests and Naxal activity.

In this environment, I had the opportunity to work alongside Baba Amte and Prakash Amte. Witnessing their dedication to improving the lives of tribal communities through medical and diagnostic camps deeply inspired both me and my wife, a part-time lecturer at a college.

‘I used to go looking for people and children abandoned because they had AIDS’

Twelve years ago, I made the decision to leave my job as a lab tech to dedicate myself fully to this cause. I couldn't bear the way children with HIV were treated, even by their own families, separated and shunned like untouchables.

Determined to make a change, I started bringing them home to care for them, starting at the government quarters.

‘My neighbors confronted me with "How dare you?" and treated me and my family as untouchables too’

When my neighbors started shunning my family, I sold my old car and left the government quarters. I sought shelter in various places, like an old gas-cylinder warehouse, and an abandoned bakery. 

Eventually, I found a permanent spot for Anandgram on top of a hill, safe from the prejudice and mistreatment we encountered everywhere. 

‘Over the years, I have been an adoptive father to many HIV sufferers who thought their lives were over’

We are now a quaint hilltop community, with separate wings for women and men. We have a fully equipped kitchen and canteen, and even a small clinic to provide essential medical care. As of now, Anandgram is home to 70 residents, comprising HIV-positive women, widows of HIV partners, and children both with and without HIV. The age range of our residents spans from 5 to 55 years old.

I've also had the privilege of assisting 36 residents in finding happiness through marriage and settling down. I'm also happy to say that 15 children have been born here at Anandgram without HIV, despite their mothers being HIV-positive. This was made possible by diligently administering the necessary medications to the pregnant mothers.

‘I treat these children as my own’

There is a girl named Ashma here at our shelter, who has HIV. When her parents passed away over 16 years ago, her uncle didn't allow her to come near him, and then eventually abandoned her. I brought her up as my own daughter, and she still lives with me today.

All our children here experience a childhood filled with laughter and friendship, and there is ample space here for them to explore, run, and play freely. A school sits just 2km from our hilltop abode, accessible to our children via a bus generously donated by a kind supporter. In the past, the school refused to welcome our children, but times have changed. Though they are made to sit at the back of the classroom, they can at least attend the classes now, and have already formed lasting bonds with their peers.

‘One of our main goals with Anandgram is to demonstrate that people living with HIV can coexist safely and without fear'

We aim to eradicate the stigma associated with HIV, especially among children. It's been heart-wrenching, having to bury 16 children who succumbed to HIV in the past. However, thanks to regular medication and exercise, the health of all the children at our facility has been stable for the past five years.

We're actively raising funds, primarily to provide shelter for volunteers, and also to house more children. We believe that by offering volunteers a place to stay, more people will be encouraged to lend a hand in caring for the children.

Click here to donate and please help us in this endeavour.

Registration Number - AAOCM6666MF20229
EIN 20-5139364

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