“It was very difficult to cope without food especially during the rains and summer. Being on the street without a single blanket was a terrible way to live. I lost my father and my mother to a terrible disease” says seven-year-old Mohan in a feeble little voice.He is one of the 115 children adopted by Dr Raja in his orphanage “Vidyashram House of Hope” at Perambalur. Mohan was diagnosed to be HIV positive when he was born. He lost his mother and father to HIV. His experience of loss and neglect during his childhood has resulted in him becoming extremely sensitive, insecure and afraid.
Vidyashram Foundation was founded by the prominent diabetologist, Dr. Raja Venkatesh and his wife Dr. Indhra, 13 years ago, specifically for such orphaned and neglected HIV children. It is now a place of healing and hope for those children who have suffered abuse, neglect and maltreatment. Vidyashram Foundation is managed by Human Uplift Trust (HUT) a 33-year-old non-profit.
“I believe that every child, where ever born, where ever lives, should have the opportunity to grow in a safe and nurturing environment, have access to a good education to become a productive citizen of the country”, says Dr. Raja.
“I was born and brought up in a small village. The village had no transport till I reached class five. As a small boy, I made up my mind to find my way to becoming a doctor. I worked sincerely hard until I became the topper in my school and went on to the top Medical University as one of the district toppers. So I strongly believe education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change your life... and the world. Good education will create great opportunities for you” he continues.
In 2007, Dr Venkatesh’s life changed when he adopted two HIV children of a patient who died in his hospital and founded ‘Vidyashram House of Hope’ - a safe haven for the HIV-infected and orphaned children. In the same year, he along with a team of like-minded committed volunteers identified nearly 39 similar children. In 2020, there are 115 such children who are now in his care. For the past ten years, Dr Raja’s mission is to provide these AIDS infected/orphaned homeless children with safety, love, reassurance, a good educational opportunity ...and a hug when needed. His main objective is to rescue and provide shelter to the homeless HIV orphaned children who have been ostracized by their own relatives and live on the streets.
Dr Raja and his wife donate half of their clinic income to these children. Local communities also help by contributing food to these lovely children of God. The shelter provides these homeless children with all their basic requirements like beds, blankets, daily nutritional meals, and snacks; served piping hot with a smile, clean clothing, education with informal schooling in the campus, medical checkups, psychological support, bereavement counseling, and large doses of individual attention; to make each child feel special, to keep up their health. Eight teachers and 8 residential staff take care of the children 24x7 all 365 days.
But Covid 19 has been a disaster.
“While everyone is out of job, especially the rural community, now these children need to be fed a good healthy meal, treated with medicines, need to have books to read and all the teachers and staff to be paid. We need help to feed and educate these children. We need to build a good school for them as well,” says Dr Raja, who is struggling with the lack of funds to meet all these expenses.