Students Help Implement Indian HIV-Positive Vocational School.
When School of Public Health students Shirly Thomas and Miranda Fadden arrived at Snehagram, a vocational training and rehabilitation center in southeast India, they met dozens of children living there with HIV—and thriving.
“We got there and they were telling jokes, playing pranks, playing sports every day,” Fadden says. “They’re just like any other kid.”
“Probably even healthier than most other kids,” Thomas adds. “They’ve gotten into the mindset that HIV is nothing that hinders them.”
As part of their summer practicum experience, Thomas and Fadden spent two months developing new tracking systems for the center while also working to enhance the learning resources available to the children. The experience, they both say, underscored the importance of taking a holistic approach to HIV treatment.
Snehagram, which means “Village of Love” in Malayalam, was founded in 2013 by the Order of the Ministers of the Sick (Camillians) in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu. The center provides comprehensive HIV care, from antiretroviral therapy to mental health counseling, to children ages 12 to 18 who live on Snehagram’s 12-acre campus.
“Tamil Nadu has an incredibly, incredibly high rate of undiagnosed HIV among children,” Thomas says. Tens of thousands of children in the state don’t know they have HIV, she explains, and don’t have access to medicine. Most of the children treated at Snehagram are orphans.
During their stay, Thomas and Fadden developed an electronic medical record system, compiling the children’s information in a clear, organized way from a hodgepodge of highly variable paper records. They created another system to inventory the campus pharmacy, creating automatic alerts for when a medicine fell below stock. Waste, they soon discovered, was a primary concern.
“We went through all of the medicine that they had currently in the pharmacy, and we had to throw out tons of it,” Fadden says. To make sure Snehagram wouldn’t lose additional money, they worked with the director, Father Matthew Perumpil, and physicians to figure out exactly how much of each kind of medicine the children required and how often each would need to be replenished.
The third project for Thomas and Fadden was a surprise. “We got worked into teaching English and life skills classes,” Fadden says. All of Snehagram’s residents receive vocational training—from agriculture and sewing to office management and photography—so they can enter adulthood both healthy and employable. The two SPH students created worksheets, activities, and games to keep their students engaged and to help concepts stick.
“We were able to leave Snehagram with a compilation of teaching resources that they could use in the future,” Thomas says, “which will hopefully benefit them as they really systemize their teaching process.”
Both Thomas and Fadden believe Snehagram is doing invaluable work to prepare the children for life beyond campus.
“Stigma is going to be their biggest factor,” Thomas says. “For them to live happily here is a very important thing.”
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