My name is Mahesh Jadhav. Back in 2006 when I completed my Diploma, I was keen to pursue engineering and become a software engineer like many of my peers. Today, I run Mahesh Foundation that provides medicine, nutritional and educational support to over 1800 HIV+ kids in Belagavi district. We run an orphanage especially for 40 HIV+ kids today.

I started a couple of businesses in Electronics and Transportation.  As a part of family culture of charity, I used to sponsor fruits and food for patients in local government hospitals.

In 2008, on one of such visits to a government hospital, I came across Rupesh who was seriously ill. When I enquired, I came to know that he was a child with HIV. At that time, my knowledge of HIV was as limited as any ordinary person. I used to think that HIV was contacted by “Bad” people and there was no cure for it. I was surprised as he was barely 4 years old and was wondering how a child can contract HIV. Seeing the poverty of his family, I started helping them financially.

After meeting Rupesh I started finding out more about HIV patients. One of the things that I noticed was the social stigma associated with these people. I also started helping other HIV+ people through a community based organization made up of HIV+ people.

In 2010, Rupesh’s mother, who was HIV+ died; his father had died quite a while back. Now, this kid had nowhere to go. I had also noticed a few other kids who seemed to have no one to take care of them, used to hang out around the government hospitals. I tried to find out about them, and realized that not even other orphanages wanted to give shelter to these kids because they were HIV+.

I started looking for a house where we could at least provide a shelter to these kids. But no one was ready to let out a house for HIV+ kids. I spoke to my family about this challenge. My mother asked me to bring these kids into our own home. There were some family members who had reservations about living in the same house with the HIV+ kids but my mother supported me all the way because she believed in charity beginning at home. We set aside the first floor of our house for these kids. And that was the birth of Mahesh Foundation.  We had 6 kids to start with.

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Meanwhile, my business was roaring and my marriage alliance was in the final stage. Somehow the local press got to know about our shelter and covered the story extensively about how a 22 year old local boy had setup a shelter for HIV+ kids.  When the story came out, a lot of other HIV+ kids were brought to the shelter and the number quickly rose to 26 kids at our home. However, my marriage broke up because the girl’s family thought I might be HIV+ because I was working with these kids.

I could not give sufficient attention to the kids at our shelter while running my business, so I handed over my business and focused on Mahesh Foundation activities.

I tried to understand a little more about HIV and its impact in our society. According to NACO report in 2015, there are over 21 lakh HIV+ people in India, about 4 lakh of these are in state of Karnataka. Approximately 32,000 HIV+ people in Belagavi district and of these, about 3800 are kids who are younger than 15 years.

Probably, the stigma associated with HIV kills more people than the disease itself. Some of this stigma was affecting me and my family. People used to look at me strangely and ask if I or one of my family members is HIV+. After the breakup of the first alliance, I had deferred my marriage plans and asked my family not to look for any alliances.

We had enrolled kids in our shelter to a local government school. In Mar 2011, our kids were thrown out of the exam hall by the HM of the school. We had to take up the fight with authorities to reverse the decision and get our kids back into exam and school.

Despite all this we kept getting more and more children in our shelter. Our home was no longer sufficient for the large number.

I was convinced that we needed to make a more permanent arrangement. One advantage of the good press for the foundation was that we were able to get a house on rent to setup our hostel. Very soon we had 55 kids in our shelter. But there were thousands more who needed other support.

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I started programs to provide educational kits to HIV+ kids. Today we have nearly 1800 HIV+ kids who get books, bags, geometry boxes etc from Mahesh Foundation.  We also provide nutritional supplement to these kids since they need more nutrition than normal kids. We have setup helpline to ensure these kids get medicine on a timely basis to make sure they stay healthy.  We offer counseling to children to help them keep their spirits up.

We have started clinics and anganwadis at a couple of slums in Belagavi.  We have also started a Mahila Udyog (Women’s enterprise) to manufacture custom made high quality bags. We employ women from slums especially those who have lost their earning members or are in otherwise financial difficulty.

Recently a few of our kids moved to another home after they completed 16 years of age as per the law. Today 40 of our kids are in the age range of 4 years to 15 years.

When some of the kids were brought to our home, their life expectancy was a few weeks to few months. I am very happy and proud to say that we have not lost even one child since our shelter started.

I have understood that even HIV+ people can lead a relatively normal life if they take their medicines regularly and keep up their moral. This is especially true for kids as they have long life ahead of them. I believe we have developed a process that helps in kids having a long and fruitful life.

I also know there are thousands of HIV+ kids out there who need this help. I am offering our processes, experience and expertise to whoever wants to setup similar centers/ shelters.

We are constructing a large hostel for our kids so that they do not have to fear being evicted at some point in time. We are working with an INK Fellow, Alok Shetty, for design and oversight.  Our new facility will be able to accommodate over 100 kids with separate residences for boys and girls. We hope to have a school for our kids that will take them to new professional levels.

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