Stewart Botting is currently in Andhra Pradesh, India, as his Right Now Foundation helps C.P. Kumar of HEARTS India to build new homes for children orphaned by AIDS. At the epi-center of the Indian AIDS epidemic, Andhra Pradesh has the highest prevalence of HIV in the country.
Here is an excerpt from a letter Stewart sent to us supporters back home:
Everyone is waiting for water! What comes out of the taps at sporadic times of the day is brown. There are power cuts in the morning and evening – though how that relates to the water I am not sure. I hoard buckets of water to wash everything in from myself to pots and pans! I plan my life around available buckets – is there enough to have a rinse after some exercise? Is there water to slush the toilet in the morning, have a shower and wash the dishes? Washing clothes becomes an art form in water preservation. Water becomes a preoccupation for me, but nothing new to the village women who have always queued by the pump in the morning, who know about scarcity of every kind.
I am moved in these villages by the hardship of life and by the dignity of the people who have to endure it. They do not complain of their lot but they do at times ask for help if the conditions of their life have become overwhelming. I am in the places to hear these stories when they happens. I hear stories from grandmothers who in the course of the telling become tearful, such is their despair – these women never cry! Their children are dead from AIDS. They have been left with the grandchildren but they have no money – they are barely capable of going to work in the fields as labourers, all the work available to them in these rural areas. They had expected to be looked after by their children in their old age but now must try and be the providers. Some battle on – but some simply can’t cope.
There are stories of suicide and murder, of men just leaving home one day and never returning, abandoning their wives who must fend for their children on her own. Alcoholism is rampant and often part of the tale of woe. The men die young, poisoned by the local liquor, exhausted from a life of hard labour – they die in their forties and fifties – men in their sixties look like octogenarians, stooped and addled. Seventy is a grand old age to be celebrated for reaching. There are suicides and many a tale of despair, especially among those with HIV. Life is so precarious that any calamity can tip ones sanity over the edge. Hundreds of millions of lives are lived in this precarious manner – eight hundred million in fact – more than the whole population of sub Saharan Africa.
And yet still the kids run and laugh and wave! I am opening five children’s homes in the Nellore District of Andhra Pradesh in South East India, small, intimate homes, not big unwieldy institutions. I am trying to do the right thing by the children. I am trying to put them front and centre of the work. I am being careful to ensure the children remain firmly rooted in their local context. The homes are in small towns neighbouring the villages where the children come from – they are not removed from their environment and the extended family remain key in their lives. In our homes, we can ensure they are literate and numerate, we can encourage abilities and channel them toward higher learning – they can be encouraged and nurtured in a way that makes them recognise that education is a way out of the cycle of poverty in which their relatives are trapped.
The other day I heard that an HIV woman, who was losing weight by the day and whose HIV positive children we support on an HIV nutrition programme we run, committed suicide. Had she done it, I wondered, so that her children would be taken into care? No. Surely not? And yet her dying wish was that her children should be taken to “Sir’s house.”
This all sounds overwhelming – and I paint a grim picture – but it does not feel like this – not least, because the kids are great and inject life with a simple unquestioning vitality – they just have energy and curiosity! They are just themselves, little people, who muck in and get on with it and who seem as aware as the rest of us that life needs to be taken one step at a time, for no one knows what tomorrow brings.
And still, we are all waiting for water.
Go to the Right Now Foundation if you’d like more information or to help.