My presence will go with you and I will give you rest. Exodus 33:14
Nestled between Nepal and Bhutan in the very northern tip of India, the tourist town of Darjeeling is an unlikely place for an MCC partner to be working with people infected with HIV/AIDS. The West Bengal Voluntary Health Association (WBVHA) is responding to the needs of a community that experiences high migration patterns from neighboring countries, including truck drivers, sex workers and day laborers.
In a country of 1.2 billion people, the relative number of people with HIV/AIDS in India is relatively small – 2.75 million cases nationwide and 7,000 in the Darjeeling district. But the vision of the WBVHA is to provide home-based care and support without discrimination to those who are infected and their families.
During the last 10 years, more than a thousand people who are HIV positive have received help and care from the WBVHA with MCC’s support. The WBVHA also works with hospitals, religious leaders, schools and others to increase understanding and acceptance for these families.
Thirteen-year-old Usha Kanu lives in the slums of Siliguri. She and both her parents, but not her younger sister, are infected with AIDS. WBVHA provides monthly medical support for Usha and start-up funds for her parents to begin a home business preparing momos (dumplings) to sell at a nearby school.
In Pelkujote, Ramen and Sumitra Barman are both infected with HIV/AIDS. Initially, they said they had no hope. One baby died at three months, but now they have a son who is a sixth grader, and he is notinfected. Because of help from the WBVHA, Ramen and his brother now farm a two-acre vegetable garden. The organic vegetables meet the families’ needs and provide enough produce to sell in the marketplace.
Nicholas Subba, from the Kurseong municipality, was a hard-core drug addict in Delhi. When he hit the very bottom, a Christian organization helped in his rehabilitation. He was later baptized and got married. But later he got sick and found out he was HIV positive. Back home near Darjeeling, the WBVHA provides some support for him with medicine payments.
Nicholas is a driver for hire, but his wife, Swabna, is not able to walk and he says it is difficult to help at home with her daily work and also find time for his driving schedule. It is a miracle, Nicholas says, that both of their children are not infected with HIV/AIDS, but he also says the family sometimes cannot afford to buy both the medicine he needs and the food the family needs to survive. Nicholas sometimes is not able to pay the school bills for the children. Neighbors do not accept the family and Nicholas says his daughters have no friends.
“I am lonely,” Nicholas told us, and even though his family experiences discrimination, he knows they need to reach out to others and make friends. Before we left his house, we laid our hands on Nicholas and I prayed for him and his family, that God’s presence would be with them, and give them rest.
We visited a number of other homes where the West Bengal Voluntary Health Association is providing support for HIV/AIDS patients and their families. I found myself praying for each of these people as we left their homes. I thank God for the WBVHA and I am grateful MCC can provide this kind of support for people in need.
Ron Byler is executive director of Mennonite Central Committee U.S.