Shanker Foundation is an organization of people living with HIV/AIDS working for the rights and dignity of those living with HIV/AIDS based in Darjeeling, India. The foundation provides transportation, access to medical care and emotional support for it's members. It also assists with food and education for the children of those living with HIV/AIDS. They are a group of people who have had the courage to be out and open about their status in the community where the stigma of HIV/AIDS is still very strong. They conduct awareness programs in Darjeeling and the surrounding region. Click on the individual images above to learn more.
As of March 2009, there were 146 members ranging in ages from 1½ to 58 years. 64 members are receiving ART (antiviral medication) of which 6 are children. 70% of the population are men, mostly laborers and truck drivers. The main cause of infection is through injecting drug (I.D.) use and contact with sex workers. These men often pass it on to their partners and children. There is a very small percentage of known infections in the MSM (men having sex with men) population stereotypically associated HIV/AIDS.
Given the lack of awareness in this region, there is no routine testing of HIV/AIDS in the medical community. Most discover they are infected after becoming sick for an extended period of time.
People who do become ill, have little direct support or access to medication within the healthcare system. Currently, the medical establishment is ill equipped to deal with the many health complications associated with the virus and disease.
People who qualify for medication, must make a 3.5 hour drive down the mountain to a university hospital in Siliguri where the patient is given about a month's worth of ART. There are future plans to set up a distribution point in Darjeeling to reduce the burden on those who do not have the resources and/or are too weak to make the monthly trek.
I had the honor of meeting a number of the members of The Shanker Foundation who invited me into their homes to hear their stories and make photographs of them. It takes a lot of courage to be public about their status. Many have been kicked out of their homes, shunned by their families and employers. Others have been fortunate to have the support of their family, and have found new friends and community within The Shanker Foundation community.
Most of them live in small one or two room homes often with the help of the Shanker Foundation. The part of Darjeeling I visited is called the Pandam Section of Library Gollay Village in Toongsoong. It's located in a deep valley below Darjeeling town accessible only by foot path.
Prayash Community Care Center
The Prayash Community Care Center is a facility run by Catholic Charities where people who need some minor medical assistance and care can go for respite. The facility has few resources and simple beds for patients. Rajen Dewon is a counselor and overseas the facility operations.
Abhinay comes from a little town called Queen Of Hills in Darjeeling. He is a volunteer with Shanker Foundation and was very instrumental in the success of this project. He worked to arrange meetings with members, translated for me during interviews, and assisted in fact checking.
Abhinay studies Mass Communications and Journalism. He loves to help people who are in need of social services He looks forward to helping his town in preserving its beauty.