Category Archives: AIDS

CNN: AIDS & India’s New Untouchables

Today on CNN Asia, the Mumbai home page features my article as one of its main rotating headline articles.

The story, “India’s New Untouchables: Children Living with AIDS” tells my personal experience in a village outside Vijayawada, with families who have been devastated by AIDS/HIV. This was a place in which much of the middle generation was missing, wiped out by the epidemic; it was elderly people raising their young grandchildren – some of whom were HIV-positive themselves, in a wholly unnecessary legacy of destruction.

My visit to Yesu’s family, and others, was three years ago – but to this day, I have never stopped thinking about them. I can’t forget the way their eyes looked; beyond tears, just despairing, and struggling to survive.

This article is published on the eve of the International AIDS Conference, which is preparing to meet in Geneva. Won’t you take a moment to read Yesu’s story, pass it on to others, and visit the World AIDS Campaign to learn how you can impact the fight against this disease, which is so devastating for children.

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Butterfly Moments

Butterfly, a website portal for working mothers, features a different “celebrity mother” each month. For April, I am delighted to report that yours truly is featured on the site. Butterfly features both a printed interview with me, as well as a series of short video interviews. The interviews discuss my work in India and research/writing about issues affecting children there, as well as my own journey as both a parent and author.

Click here to read the written interview.

For the video interviews, they are available in order below:

Interview Part 1 - Shelley Reports on the Deplorable side of India

Part 2 - How a Boy's Life was Changed

Part 3 - India's Impact on an American Teenager

Part 4 - Orphaned by Malaria, AIDS and Poverty

Part 5 - Shelley's Journey in India

Part 6 - Advice for Aspiring Writers

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Waiting for Water

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.

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The Day My God Died

One day you are a child.

The next day, you are a slave. Your childhood has ended.

These are people who have been taken from their homes against their will, transported to a new world in which they have no family, no friends, no one to help them. They do not even speak the language. They are at the mercy of their abductors, who frequently abuse them with severe beatings and withholding of food, to ensure their cooperation and break them.

Eventually, they will all be broken.

There is a room, hidden and cramped and dirty. In this place the bidding and sale of humans is done. Those who desire slaves to live in human bondage and be forced to do their bidding, can make an offer. For an agreed amount of money, typically only a few hundred dollars, the buyer can leave with his new purchase: a human being. Too often a child.

What is this world, this place? Is it a history lesson that tells of 19th century enslavement of Africans in the New World known as the United States?

No. This is our world, today, the here and now. We live in a world where slavery is alive and well. Hundreds of thousands of people are trafficked and sold into slavery every day, all over the world – including the United States of America. Many of these are children, and most are sold into the sex trade.

This is the reality for far too many children and young adults in the world today. Human trafficking has surpassed drug trafficking to become the second biggest illegal trade in the world, only behind arms, and is the fastest growing. With an estimated revenue of $41.5 billion it is so lucrative that many drug dealers are changing their cargo to human beings.

Last night I was invited to a screening of a documentary called “The Day My God Died.” This film, narrated by Tim Robbins, focuses on the real human suffering of a handful of young Nepalese girls who were trafficked over the border into India and sold into brothels. These girls were eventually rescued – after enduring years of a hell that included rape, beatings and being forced to have sex with up to 50 men each day, all for the profit of their captors.

As the documentary tells us, many of these survivors refer to the day they were trafficked into slavery as the day their god died. Many endure numerous abortions during their captivity, carry out pregnancies from their rapists, and contract HIV/AIDS. One teenager tells of her ordeal the first day she arrived at the brothel: being beaten when she refused to have sex, and eventually raped by numerous men until she stopped resisting. She was seven years old at the time.

Another young woman in the film, Jyoti, returns to the brothel where she was held after her rescue, in order to help find and rescue other girls. Jyoti shows the secret hiding rooms where the brothel owners keep the girls, and says, “Once the door closes behind you, no one ever knows you’re there.”

Don’t let the door close forever on these girls. Watch the documentary yourself.

The film originally aired on PBS, and the PBS website has a wonderful page on it, with Director’s Notes, a filmmaker Q&A, and more information about the anti-trafficking movement.

For more information about the Nepalese organization that helps prevent trafficking, find these girls once they have been sold into the sex trade, and provides a home and rehabilitation after their rescue, visit:

Maiti Nepal – the organization in Nepal; or
Friends of Maiti Nepal – its supporters in the United States; or
Make a Donation Here

Thank you, and namaste.