[Monday Motivation] How 68-year-old Mangal Shah is supporting over 100 children affected by HIV/AIDS in India
Sixty-eight-year-old Mangal Shah, popularly known as Mangaltai, has dedicated her life towards humanity for the most excluded, vulnerable, and hapless children and women.
Having worked with HIV+ children for about two decades now, her desire to care and support led her to be the godmother figure to over 100 such children.
At present, Mangaltai's organisation Palawi is taking care of 125 HIV positive children
Being a woman, it was a daring effort from her to work towards a taboo topic such as HIV/ AIDS during the 80s and 90s. But it was her sheer attitude and determination that led to where she is today.
Shah believes in Mother Teresa’s words “if you judge people, you have no time to love them”.
Understanding the needy
Soon after her marriage, when other women in the family devoted their time on puja-archana, 17-year-old Shah was more interested in helping the needy.
On approaching a government hospital to help handicapped people, pregnant women, and HIV positive female sex workers, she understood there was lack of family support for women.
Shah then decided to care for and help such people. She began providing homecooked food to the needy patients at the hospital. And soon, she realised the need to work for female sex workers who were affected by HIV/AIDS - the most excluded community of women in Solapur district in Maharashtra.
Thus began Shah’s journey, about 35-years-ago, to spread awareness about HIV/AIDS among female sex workers. This was at a time when HIV/AIDS was considered the ugliest and deadliest disease known to mankind.
Recalling her journey in helping HIV positive children, Shas says, one day, when she and her daughter Dimple were working to create awareness about HIV/AIDS among the sex workers in Pandharpur, they were informed about two girl children aged 2.5 years and 1.5 years being abandoned in a cow shed as their parents had died due to AIDS. Their relatives feared that the girls would bring shame and the risk of infection to the entire family. When Shah’s effort in persuading the villagers to look after the girls went in vain, she and Dimple decided to take them home.
They tried to find an orphanage for HIV+ children, only to realise there were no homes for HIV+ children in the district and also in entire Maharashtra.
Shah decided to provide shelter and care to such children and built a home for HIV+ children by herself. The care home was named ‘Palawi’, which means the ‘new leaves of a plant’ in Marathi.
“Since 2001, we have been working with HIV+ children for their care and rehabilitation. The children and I share a very deep bond. These children feel the need for a mother’s care. These children should feel happy and all their moments should be filled with happiness. That is what we work towards at Palawi,” says Shah.
Touching the lives of children
Project Palawi, under Prabha Hira Pratisthan, is an organisation in Maharashtra, which is considered as one of the hard-hit states in India in terms of prevalence of HIV/AIDS. Palawi claims to be the only such institution in Maharashtra, which has focussed on providing solutions and system-change for people living with HIV/AIDS.
At present, Palawi is funded by individual, local donations, and grants from international organisations. Palawi has also been raising funds for its work through Milaap and other crowdfunding platforms.
In the past 20 years, Palawi has developed various programmes and innovated multiple ideas to target the most at-risk populations. It has been creating awareness among different strata of the population and also providing residential care services for orphan children and other people affected with HIV/AIDS. It has served as a signboard for HIV positive orphan children.
Mangal Shah teaching the students
According to Shah, the central focus of the organisation is to ensure rights, equality, and citizenship. She says, with the help of 50 office employees and over 50 volunteers, Palawi has ensured access to treatment and care services for people living with HIV and HIV positive children, mitigated stigma, and has built an agency among individuals from underserved and marginalised groups, and their families who face multiple socio-economic challenges owing to their HIV positive status.
“Through every action of ours, we give the child the feeling that they are loved. Because of that, the child also feels it needs to live and is not neglected,” says Shah.
According to her, since the beginning, there has been a considerable growth in the admission of HIV positive children to the care home.
“In 2001 we started with two children, in 2005 we had 15 children admitted to the care home, and the number increased to 69 between 2006-2010. During 2011-2015, the number increased to 88, and there were 112 children in the year 2018, 110 children from 2019-2020.” At present, it is taking care of 125 HIV positive children.
In the future, the organisation plans to create "Matruvan", a property that can accommodate 500 HIV positive orphan children. It also plans to make these children self-reliant and independent enough to generate income for themselves.
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