ActionAid partner organisation Milana transforms the lives of HIV+ women in Bangalore
The afternoon air inside the small second-floor room is heavy. A pensive group of women is huddled around 34-year-old Meena, who has broken into a stream of tears.
This is in a sharp contrast to a morning that began with cheerful songs of hope and resolve.
“I remarried recently, 10 years after losing my first husband to HIV. Some say my decision to remarry is not a wise one,” Meena says.
“I have been battling the infection that killed my husband. Still I took the step of marrying someone who is HIV positive,” she adds.
The scene changes in a matter of few minutes and once again a song is sung in high pitch, dimming the blaring traffic outside on the road in India’s silicon city of Bangalore.
Meena is mother of four and has been HIV positive for over a decade now. When her husband passed away, she was ostricised, left alone to face the stigma and daily struggle to keep herself and her children alive.
Life changed for her five years ago when she found herself amidst a group of women brimming with confidence.
They were talking about bank accounts, ration cards, positive living and, most importantly for Meena, how to live as equals in the community with the status of HIV positive on their sleeve.
Today as she makes her way through to her one room home on the outskirts of the state capital of Karnataka, her neighbours look at her with respect.
Her new role as a peer counselor with the family network of HIV positive people has given her reason to fight for her dignity and allow other women living with HIV and AIDS to make a similar choice.
“MILANA is like a family to me. Its members are like relatives. It saved me from death and gave strength to face the world,” she says.
ActionAid supported MILANA has grown from five families to 300 families and has a batch of 20 peer counselors reaching out to HIV positive people. It provides, apart from psycho-social care, home-based counseling, skill training and nutritional support.