Positive education

Published Date : 17 Feb, 2012
Description :

In a society where people with HIV/AIDS are ostracised even by family members, refused treatment by doctors and stigmatised in the classroom, Punarbal Shikshya Sadan is a unique school where infected children are treated like everyone else.

Started five years ago, the school in Sitapaila gives priority to children of HIV positive parents and children with HIV/AIDS and they can study without worrying about bullying or discrimination.

Sunila Baniya (pictured, left) and Apsara Khadka started Punarbal Plus ('renewed strength' in Nepali) after working as counselors for HIV positive people. "We found that schools turn away children just because of their or their family's HIV status," explains Baniya, "since no one else wanted them, we decided to open a school for such children."

Punarbal started with 35 students of which more than half were HIV positive and in the beginning struggled to gain acceptance in the local community as teachers, staff and students faced constant harassment. Today, the school runs from nursery to third grade for 65 students.

The school is now so popular parents want to enroll even non-infected children. Baniya, Khadka and the staff are trying to place Punarbal students into 'regular' schools as well. "We do not want to expand classes beyond grade five, because we want to eventually integrate our students into mainstream schools," explains Baniya.

But so far only one student has been admitted and Khadka is distressed at the way schools are refusing to cooperate because other parents threaten to take their children out if they admit HIV students. Punarbal also has a hostel for 27 children orphaned by AIDS from western Nepal.

Punarbal relies on donations, but money is always short. For now, Khadka and her colleagues have decided to cut costs by removing free lunch. She says: "People praise us for our good work but very few are willing to support us financially."

Bhrikuti Rai

www.punarbalplus.org

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