Friday, August 2, 2013

Lady Gaga Came Here Too

I have happily spent these past three days with the Naz Foundation. Started by Anjali Gopalan in 1994, the foundation was the first to work on the issue of HIV and AIDS. Naz focuses on spreading awareness, while providing support to those in need. They are very strict about patient confidentiality, and extremely creative when it comes to teaching and confidence boosting. The actual location of Naz is a large house in a residential area, that homes HIV-positive orphans. At the home, they provide schooling, counseling, and medical support. 

I was lucky enough to come in the first day and teach a class on food, nutrition, and exercise. I thought this topic would be important since HIV/AIDS patients are immunosuppressed, and that diet and exercise can both be in the control of the patient. The older kids already knew a lot about nutrition, so my lesson was fairly quick. After, I taught them how to play "Down By the Banks", which ended up being more useful for them in terms of entertainment. 

I really enjoyed spending time with the kids and the staff at Naz. The kids were so full of life, it made me remember what it was like to be their age again. They were all so curious and so welcoming towards me. As for the staff, they did an excellent job being supportive and protective towards the children. I would love to go back there to volunteer in the future. 

Naz does not only have the home, but also has a variety of programs to support the HIV/AIDS community. They have a home-based care program, where someone from the staff would check in on families who have a child with HIV. Naz also travels to schools and other NGO's to provide teaching and counseling on sexuality and HIV.  I was able to jump in on their "Goal" program yesterday - a program dedicated to build confidence for adolescents going through puberty (main focus on girls). I learned that there is a high rate of primary school dropouts, mostly among girls. What I have heard (and what I have researched), is that when girls reach the age of puberty, they feel uncomfortable going to school because they do not understand what is going on with their bodies. The old-school Indian style toilet does not help much either. The "Goal" program raises these issues, and creates a safe space for boys and girls to learn that these changes are normal. 

Naz also tries to empower the gay community. Section 377 in the Indian Penal Code bans homosexuality as a whole. In 2009, Anjali Gopalan fought against it and one. However, the main problem still lies within the community of India - many people still see homosexuality as "bad", making it difficult for the gay community to land a steady job, and therefore resort to sex working. Physiologically, gays are more susceptible for HIV/AIDS during unprotected sex; then on top of that becoming a sex worker would almost guarantee to become infected by the virus. To fight this, Naz offers counseling. 

The staff that I spent time with truly taught me how to work from a place of joy. There is a vast array of people in need, and positivity is the first step that brings these neglected communities power. Naz provides hope in an area that not too long ago seemed hopeless. Many people understand the importance of education, however these past few days I have experienced the power of feeling safe. Once we feel safe, we are less resistant to sticking to our old ways, and can move forward to learn something new. The Naz Foundation fosters this perfectly. 

This is a picture of students from the Goal program playing a game called netball, a no-contact sport that is fairly similar to basketball. Boys are girls are encouraged to play together to inspire confidence.

PS- The kids who live at Naz told me that Lady Gaga came here, sang them "Born This Way", and gave them a TV. She was not wearing a meat dress this time. 

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