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HIV+ women show the way in Anandpur Sahib

Naveen S Garewal
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, June 28

Nature had been unkind to them. After losing their husbands to HIV/AIDS, all these women, who had no prior connection with each other, discovered separately that they themselves were infected with the deadly virus.


Shunned by society,these women decided to fight their fate and took to a path that may prove to be a major initiative in making people living with HIV/AIDS self-reliant.


A first-of-its-kind project involving people living with HIV /AIDS (PLHA), four women from villages on the outskirts of Anandpur Sahib have started a handmade paper recycling unit that has changed their lives. These women leave their homes early, struggle with paper and cotton pulp and return home with the satisfaction of being self-reliant.


Surinder Kaur, Paramjit Kaur, Jaswinder and Bholi Devi are from among a group that was trained to work at a paper recycling unit set up with the help of the Ambuja Cement Foundation as part of its corporate social responsibility.


Housed inside Bhai Ghania Gurdwara on the Ropar-Anandpur Sahib Highway, the foundation provides waste paper from all Ambuja factories as raw material for the unit and once the paper is made, buys it back, taking care of marketing needs of the unit.


“After I lost my husband, the only way to survive was to sell milk from domestic cattle, as a result my children would starve. Without any income, bringing up three small children and my in-laws was not easy. Struggling poverty and social stigma nearly killed me. But I was desperate to survive. This is when this project started and I went and joined it”, says Paramjit(28), widow of a truck driver.


The story of Surinder (30) is no different. She too contracted the infection from her truck driver husband and was left with no money. The little she earned by cooking a midday meal at a local school was spent travelling to Chandigarh to procure medicines for her anti-retroviral treatment to keep her health despite HIV. Today, she is paying fee of her two children and providing them two times meal.


Sanjay Sharma, manager at the Ambuja Cement Foundation, who has worked closely with this project, says: “The foundation has invested about Rs 10 lakh in the project and at present we are paying for the infrastructure cost like rent, electricity and supplying raw material (paper and cotton) from Ambuja units. Paper goods like file covers, envelops, notepads, visiting cards etc are bought from the unit and used in our locations thereby taking care of the marketing needs. Once these women become self -sustaining, the foundation will step back leaving it on them to run the unit.”


Jaswinder (32), who was totally dependent upon her sister and brother after the death of her husband, says, “Working here has given a new meaning to my life. I can now take care of my two sons and even my octogenarian mother-in-law”.


These women make about Rs 100 a day after taking out expenses. But once the project gets on track, the projected profits are much higher. But more important than the money, these women, working towards being self-reliant, can go a long way in changing the way people view the PLHA population.

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