She would teach them, play with them, tell them stories and even give them home-cooked food. It was during these interactions that she came in contact with a six-year-old boy left alone in the slum after his father's death. The municipal authorities took away his father's body since nobody from the family came to claim it. Nobody wanted the boy either, just because he was HIV-positive.
Smriti was shaken by the experience. She took the child in her care and nursed him, but he died of his illness. Today, she does all she can for other kids like him. She has put her personal resources into a care home for these children in Jaipur's Jagatpur, and has become their foster mother. "Faith" is now a registered non-profit organisation.
"The idea behind Faith is to provide medical and emotional help to children with HIV. When people come to know about their illness, they are treated like untouchables. There are many such sad stories and I don't know how to tell them," says Smriti.
"HIV positive children are ostracised by their own families.They are given food from under the door and no one comforts them. At Faith, my friends visit them and give them lots of love. They go to a good school and they have gained self-respect and confidence," she adds.
Jaipur's Sawai Man Singh Hospital sends children who themselves are affected by HIV and those whose parents have the illness to Smriti's care. Such children have no resources to undergo treatment or a support structure.
The money for setting up the care home came from Smriti's small export business. Friends came to her aid when they saw how dedicated she was to the cause. One of her friends, Timmie, makes lunch for children, another one celebrates her birthday with Smriti's foster children.
Though she makes tireless efforts for HIV-positive children, Smriti feels that fighting the social stigma surrounding AIDS is not easy. While trying to rent places for her care home, Smriti would have cheques returned to her by landlords after they came to know about the children's condition. She has changed three houses in 10 years.
In spite of the challenges that come her way, Smriti is undaunted. Her one clear purpose, she says, is to "fight the fear with faith." Smriti says HIV-positive children need love and car and there is absolutely no need to fear them because of their medical condition.
Sometimes, the children miss the homes they have left behind. To reassure them, Smriti tells them that they are one big family. A little girl, who came to Faith as a two-year-old, says that she likes being there. Another girl who has a family in Jaipur says she doesn't miss them. "I am very happy in Faith," she says.
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