Published: 13th February 2020
Meet the Belagavi man whom 55 HIV positive children fondly call 'appa'
Very few people can think about giving back to society and Mahesh Jadhav is one of those people. We chat with him to trace his journey that led him to start an NGO for HIV positive kids
No matter how progressive we claim our society is, there is a stigma around HIV positive children and patients even today. But Mahesh Jadhav from Belagavi did not carry forward this stigma when he found a four-year-old kid at Belagavi District Hospital in 2010. Narrating what happened on that day, Mahesh says, "I still remember the day when a child was abandoned by his relatives and close friends of the family. His HIV positive mother was on her deathbed and there was no one to take care of this boy. I was surprised to know that in some cases, children are HIV positive by birth. I approached every orphanage and NGO, requesting them to give him shelter. Their reply was a loud and clear, 'No'. After a lot of effort, I was able to admit him to the government care home in Belagavi."
After a few days, when Mahesh paid a visit to the boy, he found that the youngster was ill. Mahesh did not think twice and took him home for a few days. Fortunately, the boy gained his health again thanks to proper medication and healthy food. The boy did not want to leave Mahesh because of the lack of love he saw in his own family. But like everyone has to face challenges, this man, who is working for a noble cause, also had to face society. People started calling him an HIV positive person. He laughs as he recalls and shares, "I think it was obvious for everyone to assume that if I am taking care of an HIV positive child, then I might be suffering from the same disease. But my mother and brothers welcomed this boy and my decision with open arms. From then on till today, the boy has been living with us. He is 14-years-old now and is studying in a school."
He makes it a point to meet the kids everyday
The real journey for Mahesh started when several NGOs and government hospitals approached him with a request — if he could take care of a few more kids with HIV. We were curious to know how he dealt with the requests and he says, "I was ready to take up their responsibility in all the ways that I could. But there was no proper place to host them. From one child, the group grew to 10, then to 15 and now, we have 55 kids. Thus, Mahesh Foundation, the NGO was born in 2011. When I did not have any resources or money to arrange for the accommodation of these kids, my family gave our ancestral home to me. I named this home Asha Kiran and formed a team to work for the betterment of these kids."
This father of 55 kids started raising funds for his work. He approached government organisations, but nothing happened. He took to social media to raise funds where people contributed generously. Mahesh explains, "An idea came to my mind which was to set up a stall in a supermarket where people can donate or sponsor a day's meal for these kids. Individuals and corporates were humble enough and came forward to help us in terms of money, food and clothes. Apart from taking care of the needs of these 55 kids, my NGO has supported several other kids who wanted education, medical care and so on."
Mahesh interacting with students at his school
While the accommodation was sorted and funds were being raised, Mahesh wanted to admit these kids in a government school. Unfortunately, the school refused to admit them because they were HIV positive. "We approached the Block Education Officer and various education department officials. As a part of the programme, we even approached schools who were creating awareness that HIV does not spread by sitting together or eating along with HIV positive kids. Till date, we have been able to reach more than three lakh people from various districts of North Karnataka region. Some of our kids completed class X and pursued courses like ITI, Diploma and so on in various streams. They have started working with different companies and organisations," he says happily.
If you are wondering what facilities do kids get at this NGO, then you should know that every kid gets food rich in proteins and nutrients because half of the common diseases like cold and cough can be fought if these kids are given the right food. Then, they get regular medical check-up and counselling to see that they don't go through any mental illness or depression. And Mahesh makes it a point to be available for these kids 24 hours and 365 days.
As Mahesh knew that it is only education that can help these kids come up from poverty, he always dreamt of starting his own school. Therefore, in June 2018, Mahesh started Utkarsha Pre-primary School. The idea behind starting this school was not just to educate kids who are HIV positive but also teach specially-abled kids and those who come from poor families. "We started this school with the help of donations from corporates and philanthropists. This school is located in Kanabargi village near Belagavi and caters to the needs of more than 75 kids. This June, we will be completing two successful years. We are currently catering to the educational needs of kids aged 6 to 11-years-old. In the future, we want to cater to children beyond the age of 11 too," he concludes.