India’s AIDS Orphans Catch Up on Classes

“The sisters are like our parents. I love this place and am very happy here. I want to stay, but soon I will be ready to go because I will be done with class five.”

Nelson*, 13, lost both his parents and a sister to HIV-related illness. After the death of his parents, Nelson and his siblings were sent to live with relatives. Severe financial constraints forced all the children to drop out of school; however, after his younger sister succumbed to AIDS, child welfare finally intervened. When they discovered that he too was HIV-positive, Nelson was referred to Carmel Jyoti Care Centre and enrolled in the Breeze Course School, a part of Catholic Relief Services Project LIFE AID, which helps vulnerable children catch up on schoolwork they may have missed.

Sister Regina explained, “Carmel Jyoti cares for HIV-infected and -affected children. Almost every child you see here is an orphan. The Breeze Course School, staffed by nuns, operates on a five-class system that takes the young students two to three years to complete. The aim is not only to equip these children academically, but also socially, for reintegration into regular schools by the time they complete their final exams at the end of class five. Upon completion of the Breeze Course, the children return to their relatives, ready to continue their schooling in the local community.”

When Nelson arrived at the Breeze Course School, he hadn’t even completed grade two and was at a beginner’s level. “Nelson knew nothing when he arrived, but we could see from the beginning that he was very intelligent,” Sister Regina said. “He’s a hard worker and very talented at art. We see improvement in every exam and he has already progressed to class four, winning the ‘best boy student’ award two years running.”

Sitting quietly on the school bench next to Nelson is another star student, Chonchon*. The 10-year-old orphan girl is quick to laugh with a smile that lights up a room, but this was not always the case. When she arrived at the short-stay Breeze Course School she was introverted and reticent, but now she is singing with gusto and quick to raise her hand in the classroom. She is in class five and thanks to the sisters and her Breeze Course education, will be returning to regular school in 2011.

“I’m very happy here. It seems I didn’t learn much before, but the sisters take good care of us and teach us so well and that is why I’m already in class five,” Chonchon said. “I really like this school, especially the singing. I love the sisters and only wish I could stay here forever.”

Sister Regina chipped in that although Chonchon might be small in stature, she was all heart and very clever: a model student at the top of her class.

Twenty of the neediest young students at Carmel Jyoti, including Nelson and Chonchon, receive invaluable educational support from of CRS India’s Project LIFE AID.

“We are all very poor people without parents,” Chonchon said. “But the sisters are still helping us and because of their kindness, I can stay here and learn at this happy place.”

*Names have been changed

Freelance writer Steve Cunliffe reports on a CRS program in India

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