The State of HIVs/AIDS in Nepal
HIV infected people in Nepal still face discrimination daily due to stigmatization. Infected children were expelled from schools and not given opportunities for education. They often came from poor families; having lost one or both parents, they did not have access to healthy food, medicine or proper clothing. Sensing the urgency of these issues and the need to act quickly, Punarbal Plus established a day school "Punarbal Shikshya Sadan" in May 2007 to provide educational and nutritional support for the orphaned and infected/affected children.
The school started with 31 HIV/AIDS infected students. However, soon after opening the school, people started to label Punarbal as "the school for the infected children only". We realized the importance of integrating infected children into society, and so, in the following year, children from underprivileged families, orphans and conflict affected children were also admitted. This was the organization’s first step towards children's integration. The benefits were abundant. The school started building its identity as a “normal” school again. Infected children who once lived in isolation and underprivileged children who were previously not able to go to school, now had the opportunity to play, learn and interact with others in the same age group. These in turn had positive impacts on their behavior and mental health.
At that stage, the school only supported children from within the Kathmandu Valley. The demand for admission for HIV affected and infected children/orphans started pouring in from remote parts of Nepal. Admitting any of those children meant that they would need for a place to live. Hence, in November 2009, Punarbal Plus initiated "Punarbal Home", a care and support center for those children who had nowhere else to go due to prevailing discrimination.
Following continuous lobbying by school authorities, government officials, doctors, like-minded organizations, and journalists for rights to education of the infected children, Punarbal succeeded in integrating its first batch of students in grade 5 in 2013 in a government school in Sitapaila. The school agreed to admit only bigger children initially as the school authorities were afraid that smaller children may fight with each other and get infected. But as time passed by, the school agreed to integrate children from grade 2.
At the same time, Punarbal Plus had to close down Punarbal Shikshya Sadan School due to lack of funding support. The non-infected children from the community were integrated in other schools with free of cost education. Since then, the younger infected children are taught at home by the hostel-in-charge of Punarbal Home, with a vision to integrate them in the local school in grade 2 when they are 7 years old. This was an achievement for Punarbal Plus, as we have always dreamed of integrating children into public schools so that they are treated as other normal children without any discrimination.