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How a youth-led organization is making HIV infected children to smile, play and dance (Feature Story)

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Hakuna Matata….where KIDS feel they are loved

SAATH, an organization working together with individuals, groups and organizations in order to provide necessary support to children and girls, had brought its project ‘Hakuna Matata’ in 2012 to ensure capacity building and holistic development of marginalized children. The project prioritizes the children infected and affected by HIV & AIDS; children affected by conflict, children with special needs and from poor economic background, and orphans.

The group of motivated youths at SAATH decided to direct their focus on education, socialization and capacity building for children who belong to marginalized communities. That’s how ‘Hakuna Matata’ (which means ‘no worries’ in Swahili), symbolizing a life without worries for the children, was born with the concept to make the marginalized kids ‘feel like kids’ and reduce their existing stigma.

Currently, through Hakuna Matata, they are supporting 40 kids infected or affected by HIV and AIDS (30 in Kathmandu and the rest in Kaski). They have conducted around 360 hours of workshops for these children along with annual summer and winter camps. The workshops basically focus on capacity-building, and cover creative and fun-filled activities like arts, music and story-telling. The camps are for recreational purposes and help in polishing team building skills and socialization of the affected children. SAATH has also created a saving account for the children, adding monthly deposits for the kids’ educational expenses. Since last year, they have also started regular home-visits of the children for evaluation purposes and have advocated for their awareness and skills enhancement. They have also been conducting workshops and recreational activities with kids and parents on a monthly basis.

Chandani Kayastha, Program Coordinator at Hakuna Matata mentioned, “During the initial days of the project, the families of these children were not so open-minded and we had difficulties coordinating. But, in these years, they have understood the importance and impact of our work. Today, the kids, as well as their parents treat us as a family. So, we make regular visits taking nutritional foods for the children. It gives us immense pleasure to know that our children have finally started connecting with us emotionally. They can’t really open up at their schools but here, they completely enjoy themselves without any hesitation.” She recalls one of them, “When we first met her, she didn’t talk to us at all. For long, we tried very hard to figure this out, but all in vain. But, now, she has finally started opening up to us. Now, we feel emotionally attached, and the feeling is mutual.”

The members of SAATH believe that sending HIV infected children to separate schools will only end up increasing their stigma and isolation. They believe in togetherness so, they provide moral, emotional and educational supports to the affected children, helping them socialize with other children too. “We also think that it’s not the right time to let these innocent children at this raw age know about the implications and issues of HIV. So, we have separate sessions with their parents instead to talk about how their children are doing and note their progress,” added Chandani.


Hakuna Matata…where KIDS can be KIDS (Video)

Hakuna Matata is not a funded or donor-based project, and currently runs with the funds collected by volunteers from fund-raising events, and supports from Citizens Bank and some travel businesses. SAATH has 6 full-time staff members working cross-functionally for their 2 projects- Danfe and Hakuna Matata and has some volunteers across Kathmandu and Kaski. Talking about the challenges of this project, Chandani pointed to decreasing funds and support in the progressing years. The children in Kaski are supported by Rotary Club of Kantipur, Dharma Society and the Endowment Fund and it seems to sustain well. But, she mentioned that they are having difficulties sustaining their project in Kathmandu. “Many people are approaching us to support other HIV infected children too, but due to lack of funds, we are not able to expand our target group. So, we are looking for more supporters, sponsors and volunteers who can help us achieve this motive,” shared Chandani.

Five years down the line, I see Hakuna Matata as a very sustainable project serving not only HIV affected kids but also other people from the marginalized communities. What motivates me to continue in this journey is the impact that our project has been able to make in the lives of these communities. I remember going to these kid’s homes and orphan centers initially only to find them in a vulnerable state living in messed up rooms. But, gradually they have learned the importance of hygiene and sanitation, and now, all we see is their perfectly maintained personal hygiene and clean rooms. Also, the way they carry themselves makes us feel highly positive about our work,” opined Chandani who was a teacher at Euro Kids back then and currently works passionately at SAATH for the welfare of marginalized children.

Photos Courtesy: SAATH

Presentation: Drishti Maharjan

Read also: Danfe – Empowering Rural Women with Tailoring Skills