The pathfinders

NAT

Three months ago, 52-year-old Girish Khudanpur quit his job with a Dutch firm in Dubai to work for HIV-positive patients. Khudanpur, a 'volunteer sevak' at the community care centre run by Snehalaya in Ahmednagar, now teaches HIV-positive people vermi-compost technology and helps them with farm work. "I am glad to have found some meaning to life," he says.

Khudanpur is among the thousands of volunteers of Snehalaya, which has 17 projects for the deprived sections of society. Set up in 1989 by Girish Kulkarni, it has helped women engaged in prostitution in Ahmednagar district get out of the trade, and guided children in slums to a better life.

Before setting up Snehalaya, Kulkarni and his team had visited brothels, earned the trust of several commercial sex workers and helped them quit prostitution. They later took up another project to treat the children of these women and also those who were infected with HIV.

"Under one of the many projects run by Snehalaya, there are 18 youngsters who are undergoing training in vocational courses. But they want to stay with us till they are confident of getting better jobs. Some are HIV positive and hence our role is to motivate and counsel them, apart from providing temporary shelter," says Khudanpur.

But a majority of youngsters at Snehalaya's campus in Ahmednagar have grown up here. Pooja Kelkar, who is HIV-positive, was brought to Snehalaya from Pune as a six-year-old and this has been her home ever since. Studying to be an auxillary nursing midwife, she works as a special assistant to nurses at the 20-bed Sneh Deep hospital on the campus that provides care and treatment for HIV-positive people.

Dattatreya Sangle, superintendent of the on-campus hostel, says that of the 350-odd children in Snehalaya, 140 are HIV-positive and have been sent here from various parts of the state for rehabilitation. "At least 97 children are on anti-retroviral therapy," says Sangle. "Most of the other children belong to women who are engaged in prostitution and they stay at our centre. They study in 18 schools in the city and stay with us till they start earning their own living."

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