“You will win”: A story of a child sports champion advocating for a winning attitude among HIV-infected children

Jun 2015 Urmila Chanam Photo credit: Urmila Chanam

Alkmaar, the city in Netherlands known all over the world for its cheese, is the venue for International Children’s Games (ICG) popularly known as Children’s Olympics. In a matter of few days, it will begin to receive youth sports champions from different corners of the globe where children from cities around the world between the ages of 12 and 15 will participate in a variety of sports and cultural activities from June 24-29, 2015.

One such youth champion heading for Netherlands is Babu Seenappa who hails from a small village in Hoskote taluk from Karnataka state in India. 14, male and a marathon runner, there are two things that are most striking about Babu. The first is the conviction he carries in his gait as he prepares to participate in the 1500 m event at Netherlands. And the second is the fact that he was born with HIV and orphaned at an early age. For the first time in the history of Children’s Olympics two HIV positive children are participating, Babu being one of them.

Babu has taken part in several competitions at the Karnataka state level, running 5k and 10 k events including the Kaveri Trail Marathon, the Bangalore Wellness Run, the Auroville Marathon and most recently the TCS run on May 17, 2015. In the Auroville Marathon he completed 10k in just 37 minutes and finished second.

‘There is something poking me from behind saying- you will win, you will win, you will win! I don’t know if it is my conscience or God talking to me, I only know I will run as if there is no tomorrow. And I will win.’-Babu

As he practices and prepares for his international sports debut, Babu shares his inner thoughts-‘I might be nervous at the start of all the races that I have participated in but after the first few seconds I just shoot out and this comes from the belief that I will do good.’

From where does this belief to excel and overcome challenges come from? What are the issues of children infected and affected with HIV in India and what are the solutions? What does the journey from HIV, stigma and discrimination to becoming a sports champion look like?

Babu’s parents died when he was just six and his aunt brought him in the year 2008 to Sneha Home Care, a residential facility in Sarjapur, Bangalore run by Sneha Charitable Trust (SCT) for HIV infected children. He has spent eight years in Sneha Care Home and now lives in Snehagram, Krishnagiri in Tamil Nadu, a residential facility for children above the age of 14 run by the same trust.

Sneha Care Home and Snehagram together have cushioned the hardship-filled lives of vulnerable children who are infected and affected by HIV/AIDS- either they are left orphaned by parents who died of HIV/AIDS and/or are HIV positive themselves. Snehagram mentors these children to excel in academics, sports and other extra- curricular activities, imparts life skills and vocational training and builds leadership skills besides laying emphasis on their nutrition, health and ART adherence. It gives them avenues to achieve good health while giving them the infrastructure and support to realize their life aspirations and think beyond just HIV.

Children who are HIV positive face acute stigma and discrimination within their families and community especially when they are left orphaned and have no one to protect them. Lack of knowledge of their HIV status also aggravates their health condition as early detection of the disease and early treatment are delayed. Nutrition and ART adherence are also issues that affect children who are HIV infected besides psychological demands of the need to feel appreciated, loved and cared for.

Babu talks about the harrowing days following his parents’ death and the hope he regained after he was brought to the care of Snehadaan/Snehagram. In his own words, Babu sums up the value of the change Snehagram brings in the life of the children it protects, educates, cares and nurtures –

“After my parents’ death, coping with dejection and ill-treatment from other family members who harbored misunderstandings and myths about HIV and its transmission, was one of the biggest challenges for me…Snehagram moved me away from my home and the suppression there after my parents’ death and changed me from an ordinary child who didn’t think much to a child who has leadership skills, experience of having served as the Prime Minister for two terms in the Child Parliament, and aspirations to touch the sky. The International Children’s Games is the sky I want to touch.” Babu

As Babu heads for Netherlands he represents the entire global community of children who are HIV positive and his participation advocates to infected children to never think ‘negative’ about themselves, to believe that HIV is just a three-alphabet word and not an end to their dreams and aspirations.

 

Snehagram is a learning site of KHPT for its HIV/AIDS Orphans and Vulnerable Children Social Protection Project. The learning site at Snehagram at Krishnagiri district in Tamil Nadu, India serves to demonstrate to other programmes and states, how an institution based intervention is focused not just on care and treatment of children infected and affected with HIV or AIDS but also links them to opportunities related to education, over all development and vocation.