Smriti Singh Devotes Her Life to Support HIV+ Kids
- IWB Post
- June 18, 2015
In the hot sunny weather, I had to walk two lanes as my cab driver was not allowed to enter the colony where my interview was. The moment I entered this blue colored double-store building, my mood lightened up watching the cute mini rides in the garden.
Here I was, at Rajasthan’s first orphanage for HIV positive children called ‘Aalingan‘. It’s an NGO run by Faith – an initiative of the erstwhile royal Smriti Singh. Aalingan is Hindi for hug. At Aalingan house, children living with HIV/AIDS find a home, an embrace and a hope to live a joyful life. The kids here are aged 3 to 18.
Moving forward, I saw a window decorated with small toys next to the board, giving it a very homely feel.
I could hear the playful noises of children as I came closer to the entrance. Besides the joyful huge grins, I got thrilled when they came rushing towards me to touch my feet shouting ‘Narayana Jija’. Both my photographer & I were stunned and at the same time, felt emotional.
These children are fighting for their lives, also against the time and society that is not ready to accept them. Most of them belong to underprivileged families from the state’s hinterland and are recommended by Jaipur’s Sawai Mansingh Hospital to Smriti’s NGO.
Smriti, the scion of the erstwhile principality of Panched in Madhya Pradesh, inaugurated the orphanage in September 2007 after she observed the unfortunate discrimination against a child with HIV at a railway station. It was the Rajasthan State AIDS Control Society that supported her to begin this noble work.
Over the years, Smriti adopted more children and currently has over 50 children supported by committed caregivers and volunteers that include a doctor, a nurse and many tutors. Kids in the home calls her ‘maa‘.
These children are very dear to me. There is no diffrence between these kids and my daughter.
The mornings of the kids at ‘Aalingan’ begin with yoga. Smiriti is very particular about the monthly health check-up of all her kids in the home. For her, health of these kids comes before anything else.
We do not allow the children to play in the sun. However, we have arranged all kinds of activities and games in the house to keep them fit. All their activities are highly monitored and we do not entertain any kind of stressful schedule for them.
Speaking about kids’ medication, she told us about the medicine cabinet that was full of Virolan tablets, a common variety of the anti-retroviral pills.
The children are medicated twice a day but the dose varies according to their weight and height.
The home is packed fully with various toys and games: Pencil-and-paper games, puzzles, carom, billiards, cricket kits, soft toys, paint boxes, dolls, mechanical sets, chessboards, I-pads and ludo. The shelves in the bedrooms are done in bright bedspreads, posters, wallpapers, stickers and floral curtains that altogether make this home look like a mini toyshop.
The highly pampered children here are taken for various outings throughout the year. By now, they have been taken to places like Goa, Jammu and Kashmir, Manali, etc. Also on every 4th of February, Smriti celebrates their birthdays, paying tribute to her late father.
There was a time when most of the private schools refused to give admission to these kids, but a private school in Jaipur called ‘Disneyland’ not only gave admissions to the kids but also assured further support to Smriti. Kudos for that!
The Jaipur-based Clarkes-Amer hotel provides free lunches to the children. The Princess of Gunawati, an erstwhile royal estate, pays for the daily quota of milk.
Smiriti never asks anyone for any kind of financial help, and is managing everything from whatever she earns through her bridal-line export business. The state government pays only for the medical bills and the anti-retroviral drugs. The home depends on the services of a stream of volunteer workers from both India and abroad who spend their summer months and pre-job breaks at orphanages like this.
Since Smriti needed more finance, she converted her residence into a resort for all the high-end tourists. Being an erstwhile of the royal family, today she invites these groups of tourists to her place for dinners while narrating them various royal stories of the family. Thanks to her ancestral family albums and brilliant food, she has been able to attract tourists all this while.
When Salman Khan came to Jaipur, he visited our NGO. On knowing about the medical condition of these kids, he got very emotional. He will be conducting a show to raise funds for my NGO by the end of this year.
I want the royalty of Rajasthan and the neighboring states to contribute to my cause, along with the common man.
We think, this handmade love is the biggest asset in Smriti’s life.
See how the little ones are displaying their beautiful paintings to us!
These highly disciplined children make sure that no one rumples their impeccably made beds during the day.
Meeting these kids personally was a pleasure. I was dragged to play a game of carom with them. But even on loosing it, trust me, I felt victorious!
Do you want to know some of their stories?
“I love to draw and paint,” says Shiva, a student of Class 8. He proudly showed us his sketchbook full of colored shapes.
This young lad, Umrao has just completed his 12th and can play awesome synthesizer. He told us, ‘I love playing synthesizer. Whenever volunteers come to work with us they teach me different tunes every time’.
Jyoti (name changed) showed us her Barbie’s black gown that she has created! She can give any designer a run for his money. Agree?
‘Faith’ offers these kids regular, well-balanced meals, proper care and timely treatment, thereby enhancing their confidence. ‘Faith’ believes that through awareness, these children will be free from the stigma and discrimination faced in our society.
Between their little whispers and excited giggles, we finally made our way back. But it was really hard to say goodbye to these cute little kids. The beautiful images of their shining little faces will remain intact in our hearts for the rest of the life.
If you want to contribute or volunteer, check this website.
Photo Courtesy: Nupur Agarwal