Started in 2003, as an attempt to meet the rising number of AIDS-affected and infected orphans, AGAPE developmental society, with their motto of ‘loving hands, living hope’, aims to provide them with all-round care and development, right from cradle to college. AGAPE stands for ‘Ambassadors of Goodwill for AIDS Patients Everywhere’.
Talking about this initiative, Lynne Voggu, founder, AGAPE, says, “With few options, if any, for HIV-infected children, AGAPE takes pride in being the first children’s home exclusively for AIDS-affected/infected orphans.” The organisation survives solely on private and corporate donations. “Land is our immediate requirement,” Lynne says. “We are currently operating in rented premises but, with our numbers increasing, relocating to a bigger one is the need of the hour,” she explains.
Housing close to 200 children (100 affected and 100 infected), in the age group of 2 to 22, the organisation takes all children regardless of caste, creed and religion into their fold, all-year round. Elaborating on the differences between HIV-infected and HIV-affected, Lynne says, “Kids are called HIV-affected when their parents have HIV, but, they are healthy. We have about 100 HIV-affected children, some who are orphans and some who will soon be; whereas, in the case of HIV-infected ones, the children are also HIV positive.”
The society was first registered in 2003 and started accepting children from 2004. Children admitted to AGAPE are from families where one or more parents is suffering from HIV/AIDS and do not have any means to support themselves or their families, and also have kids whose parents have already succumbed to the disease.
Equipped with their own English medium school, AGAPE offers each child the opportunity to prove themselves in all spheres of life; be it academics, sports, or extracurricular activities, and pay special attention to their physical training. The school offers free English medium education right from nursery to Class 10. “We wish to give them an equal chance to prove themselves in the world. By making sure that they are not missing out on anything because of their ailment, we try to build and maintain their self-confidence, as that is their most important weapon to fight this disease.”
AGAPE is currently supporting 30 intermediate and degree students and a few of their students have been placed in MNCs. Talking about it, Lynne proudly says, “Seeing them making a career for themselves is my biggest reward. One of our numbers has recently got married as well, proving to the world that with right care, guidance and support, these kids can also lead normal life.”
Asked about her experience on working with these kids, she says, “There is a general social stigma when it comes to AIDS and, sometimes, without even meaning to, we tend to blame the innocent. These kids are just like the others in the society. They just have a medical problem, with no fault of theirs, and all they require is acceptance, proper care and timely medical help. I see no reason as to why they should be treated any different.”