Noori Saleem has battled two of society’s greatest stigmas — being transgender and having HIV. At 24, she was diagnosed with HIV and was the third person to be officially declared HIV-positive by the Indian government in 1987. But once she was diagnosed, she made it her life's mission to create awareness among the public about HIV/AIDS and also to ensure that HIV-affected children get a decent standard of living with basic education and healthcare.
Born in Chennai, and orphaned at a very young age, Noori has been taking care of herself since the age of 13. Hailing from Ramnad, Noori was born Noor Mohammed in Chennai as the second male child in the family, followed by a younger sister. Her childhood wasn’t easy as she felt that she was a woman trapped in a man’s body.
Noori ran away from home when she was 13 years old, unable to handle the gender identity crisis that she was facing.
She did a series of odd jobs to survive and feed herself before she took up sex work. Noori continued to be a sex worker until she found out that she had HIV. Noori says that she quit sex work once she was diagnosed with the infection as she did not want to spread the disease to others. Though heartbroken initially to hear the news, she started working with NGOs for social causes and participating in campaigns and other programmes to create awareness about HIV and AIDS.
With the experience she gained from working with NGOs, she started an NGO of her own–South Indian Positive Network. Established in 2003, it aims at providing help and support to anyone who is affected by HIV.
One day in 2005, Noori received a midnight call from someone who claimed to have seen a kid with bloodstains left alone in a dumpster.
Recalling what happened on that horrific night, she says,“When I went there, I realised that the kid was just two days old. Next to the child was an anonymous letter in Telugu stating, ‘It is my fifth child, the child responsible for me contacting HIV."
Without a moment’s hesitation, Noori took the child home. The child had to undergo a few surgeries before she could be saved.
At this point, Noori started the SIP Memorial Trust in 2005 to take care of abandoned and homeless children affected by HIV.What started with one child, now has 37 children living in the shelter. So far, 62 children who have been part of the shelter since its inception, have been reintroduced to their families, after 6 months to 1 year of rehabilitation. Noori has made sure that all of them get to attend school. And it doesn’t come as a surprise to know that Noori is fondly called ‘Noori Amma’ by all these children. At present, the Trust takes care of the shelter, education, food, healthcare and more for all the children.
Apart from the home, she also takes care of around 250 children outside, and many of the children have gone on to pursue college education now. Nothing matters to Noori more than the well-being of these kids, whose ages range from 5 to 17. In fact, despite her significant contributions to society, what she considers her achievement is the fact that all these kids are in good health.
Noori’s only passion in life, for now, is to build a home for the children, a project she is nearly through withCurrently, 80% of the construction work at the shelter has been completed. Both the ground and first floors have been constructed, and the third floor is under construction. Noori needs additional funds for constructing the third floor, and also to procure furniture. Completing the construction work would help in accommodating a total of 200 children.
“I just hope that the construction of the home goes on without any hurdles. And it will be good to get help from good-hearted people in running this home. I will do whatever I can, I will also ensure that I bring up my children with a good heart and helping tendency.”
Noori is working hard to provide a decent life for these children. She is dreaming of a better future for them. You can make her dreams come true by making a generous contribution.