Wednesday, June 27, 2007

From Durham to Delhi















Me (left) aside fellow Duke student (Nandini Palaniappa) and NGO staff as we assist in community outreach during our visit to Sahara this past December. Our trip was so eye-opening that I am now back for the summer with five other Duke undergrads to further help the orginization.


My name is Aneesh Kapur and I’m a rising Junior at Duke. Back at school I’m majoring in Public Policy, minoring in Biology, and planning to go to Medical School. Currently, however, I am here in New Delhi, India with five other Duke undergraduates working to help improve conditions for individuals living in the lowest tiers of society.

We are volunteering with Sahara (http://www.saharahouse.org/), a New Delhi based NGO which offers support to a variety of marginalized populations throughout India. Born in a country with extreme overpopulation problems and an extremely steep gap between the rich and the poor, none of Sahara’s clients are given a second chance in society. One mistake – or even more common, birth as a certain individual or into a certain family – pre-writes one’s destiny.

Sahara’s clients include child and adult Drug Users, Transgenders (TGs), and women and children living in extreme poverty. And while one characteristic, usually even an uncontrollable one, dooms these individuals into the worst of living conditions, their condition can hardly be defined by a single characteristic.

These are not a) people living at risk of HIV/AIDS, or b) people living in poverty, or c) illiterates, they are all of the above. Our work here, and that of Sahara, could be described as reducing harm for drug users, preventing the transmission of HIV/AIDS, providing access to basic health care, combating illiteracy, promoting family planning or any other conceivable type of social work.

Indeed, Sahara began as a crisis care and rehab center for injecting drug users, but over the years faced the earliest cases of transmission of the human immunodeficiency virus through needle sharing, and step by step realized that drug use is only a single facet of life in these marginalized populations.

Throughout, the NGO’s mission has remained the same: to help those society has shunned back onto their feet. Throughout, Sahara’s scope has gotten bigger. Drop in centers for basic health care, detoxification and rehab for addicts, community outreach and home-based care, day care and non-formal education for street children, and vocational training are all services Sahara now provides – all to assist these people achieve a better place in society.

See, back at Duke, I may take four classes any given semester. In my Biology class HIV is taught as a microscopic virus which infects one’s immune cells and thus depletes his/her ability to fight off other illnesses. In my chemistry class I may learn about the addictive effects of drugs (well, that is, if they taught anything interesting in Chem classes). In Public Policy I may learn about the inadequate provision of basic health care. And in Writing 20 I may feel like I am reverting to, or else I may learn about, illiteracy.

These are all individual realities for their respective hospital beds, lab benches, research proposals, and endless useless revisions, but here, to those on the streets of New Delhi, each condition has a much larger shadow. And Sahara’s clients face conditions overcast by them all.




51 comments:

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There are some simple steps all HIV-positive tourists can take regardless of their destinations to minimize chances of undue customs delays or outright deportation:

* Look healthy. Travelers who appear to be ill are likely to be targeted for indepth questioning or inspections.

On the Road With HIV: A Guide for Positive Travelers

* Be discreet and polite.Don't draw any undue attention to yourself that could cause customs officials to pull you aside.

* Don't advertise the fact that you're HIV-positive. It pains me to have to give that kind of advice, but you might not want to wear a PLWHA t-shirt.

* Keep your anti-HIV medications in their original bottles, and do not attempt to hide the containers. If you're hiding them customs officials may think they contain contraband and may hold you to verify that they are permitted into the country.Opening packages or taking pills out of their prescription bottles will delay your time in security(more info).

*Pack extra medicine and supplies when traveling in case you are away from home longer than you expect or there are travel delays.

*If you are taking injectable medications (e.g., Fuzeon, insulin, testosterone) you must have the medication along with you in order to carry empty syringes(more info).

*Depending on the circumstances it may be worthwhile taking along a doctor’s certificate (in English) which shows that the holder is reliant on the medication and that it has been prescribed by the doctor.Carry a copy of your prescriptions in your carry-on, purse, or wallet when you travel.

*You can ask and are entitled to a private screening to maintain your confidentiality. Show copies of your prescriptions and/or your medication bottles and if you have any problems ask to see a supervisor.

In general, the above points apply to entering countries with ambiguous or restrictive regulations: as long as HIV positive status does not become known, there will be no serious problems for a tourist. However, if someone is suspected of being HIV positive, or if the authorities have concrete reasons to believe they are, entry may be refused. Since october 2008 non-immigrant US visas are granted to HIV-positive people who meet certain requirements, instead of waiting for a special waiver from DHS(more info).

My philosophy on the whole issue is that it's not an issue, so I don't present it as one.And I've never had any problems over the years of extensive travel.
People vs. PLWHA

They have laws against us not only prejudgments.They detest us and don't want us around.We are the new lepers.We deserve to be treated like this,we are a danger to the public health and we are morally dubious individuals.We have been warned about the virus and still managed to catch it.Therefore we are stupid,too.It might be true...
So what now?
Somehow this virus works slowly and leaves enough vitality in our bodies and minds to still react to their bigotry and intolerance.We have the virus but we are still vigorous,strong and sticking to our guns. Consequently,our reaction is to show them we are in deed a threat,not because of the fact we carry the virus,but becuse we are willing to fight for our survival and not going to die quietly.Do not go gentle into that good night !


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binu said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
binu said...

ur attempts are really appreciable..but the map of india u have used on this site will attract legal action. I this map Kashmir is not as part of India. U have to mention Pak occcupied Kashmir, atleast

Rahul said...

I read with interest and must tell you that you and the NGO are doing a noble job. Keep it up ! Nice blog!

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