"Very Special Children"

Frank OíConnor has been a volunteer at our Seafarer Centre since 2008. Both he and his wife Joy are also involved as volunteers with other organizations and last year (2012) they spent two months in Bangalore, India at the Sneha Care Home & Shining Star School for orphaned children who are HIV infected. This Care Home is located on the fringe of Bangalore, a city of 8 million inhabitants. It was established and is run by the Italian based Catholic Camillian religious order who also operate many hospitals and other palliative care centres throughout India, Asia and Africa.

Four of the young girls showing some of the flowers they have grown.

There are 100 children at the Bangalore Home from age four to early teenage. Half have lost both parents to AIDS and half still have one parent alive, usually the mother who is AIDS infected and therefore cannot look after the child.

Joy with some of the younger children in the courtyard.

Frank and Joy had some previous involvement with HIV infected children having spent a month at at the Camillian Social Centre, Ray Ong, Thailand, for 50 children back in 2002. With this experience they were able to quickly fit in at Sneha Bangalore where they helped the Director Father Mathew and his staff in a variety of ways. Joy who is a trained horticulturist assisted with the large vegetable garden and with teaching classes mainly for the smaller children.

Programme Manager Manoj with a group of the children.

This could be quite a daunting task since despite their health problems twenty small children with a lot of energy and minimal amenities can be quite a handful! Frank also assisted with taking school classes, usually the older children, and additionally was asked by Father Mathew to write up a series of short stories about the Care Home, itís children, itís staff and the everyday life there. Together, with some of the photographs taken by Joy, this has been turned into a small book for distribution in a limited way to interested parties in Australia, UK, USA and India.

The booklet is titled "Very Special Children" which according to Frank is a very apt description. Despite their basic health problem, they are all beautiful and remarkably bright, happy, fun loving and outgoing which is a tribute to the enlightened care given at the home. Coming from poor Hindu families living in rural villages where they are mostly shunned because of their HIV status, here at the home they are given every opportunity to develop as individuals. Many of the older children are very articulate. Being Indian, they are not backward in having their say, often all at the same time and usually at maximum volume!

Frank & Joy with Home Director Fr. Mathew Perumpil.

They are being taught and encouraged to stand up for their human rights in a country where discrimination against children who are HIV positive can be severe both in the community and within the extended family.

As Frank and Joy have commented about their time in Bangalore. ďTo be involved, however briefly, in the day to day lives of these beautiful children and their dedicated carers is a humbling and enlightening experience".

This is little Anjeli who came to Sneha in 2012 aged 11 years desperately ill. She survived and is now one of the real 'characters' at the home.