12/19/2011, 00.00
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HIV/AIDS patients in Mother Teresa’s home in Kolkata

by M.C. Yesudas
Christmas is a gift from God. AIDS patients are rejected by their families, beaten even. Children are starved for love and life. A wife expresses her joy, caring for her husband. Br Yesudas, a Missionaries of Charity brother, talks about his work with patients in Kolkata’s Shanti Bhavan hostel.
Kolkata (AsiaNews) – Dear friends, there are so many things to write about the experiences of the past year. Since January 2011, I have been more available here in the Shanti Bhavan for its work with HIV/AIDS patients. We have added a small ward for children who are infected with HIV/AIDS and increased our capacity to 50 patients for care and support. This year we have accepted 77 new cases in the late stage of infection, providing food, care and medication. A few of them have died and others have returned to their family and work.

As a result of their illness, these men have lost their source of income, security, independence, dignity and self-esteem. They face humiliation. Our struggle is to give these men some meaning and purpose—aspirations, dreams, motivations, hope, endurance and fulfilment.

Coping with HIV means firstly helping them come to terms with the loss of the future they had in mind for themselves. Secondly, it means trying to give their life some meaning and purpose in its absence. Thirdly, it means helping them to be in touch with their humiliation so that they can stand closer to their own being and to God. If they are helped to steep themselves in love, with life and the Divine, nothing can humiliate them.

Take for example, the cases of Amit and Bapi. After testing positive, they experienced hostility and rejection by their family and neighbourhood. We have Sujoydas, who was beaten up by neighbours, and is not able to walk. After much care and treatment, he is now able to get up and sit. We hope he will improve soon and be able to walk.

We meet so many young men who are sick. Their health declines so quickly as they develop HIV encephalopathy (AIDS dementia complex) and HIV wasting syndrome, which end in death. Our work in the midst of illness, despair and death finds its meaning only in faith. There are no answers to many things we face, so we live with the silence, the unknown, and do what we can along the way. However, I have discovered a deep joy in the midst of this journey with suffering people. Human love and care is something that gives hope and joy to the people in illness and despair.

I have watched Sujitra Samatho for three months. Her husband was a HIV positive patient who suffered from pulmonary Kaposi’s Sarcoma. He was losing weight, had progressive loss of muscle mass and subcutaneous fat and severe fatigue made him suffer. He was always struggling to breathe. Sujitra never left her husband. She was always there by his side. She was very caring and supportive. She was all that a husband would wish for in a wife.

Whenever I visited, I saw her sitting by her husband’s side, rubbing his arms and feet, trying to alleviate at least part of his suffering. She sat as closely as possible and looked into his eyes and watched his intense suffering. In one of my visits, she told me, “My joy is to serve him as long as he lives. When he was in good health, he gave me everything I need and now I can’t simply forsake him”. In Sujitra all, the selfishness within her has given way to the sheer Joy of serving her husband and I saw Christmas in bloom.

Atul Bala has been with us for the last two years. Opportunistic infections from HIV have affected his speech and mobility. Yet he has an enormous smile for all. He is a little sunshine in Shanti Bhavan and his simplicity proclaims Christmas is a reality now.

Bapi and Amit walk in the garden. They water the plants and watch the flowers blossom every day. They look at the flowers with such satisfaction and I see the freshness of the Joy of Christmas on their faces.

We have five children full of life. Om Prakash is an expert in flying kites, Abinash is a fast learner, Martin has a mischievous smile, Philip is hyperactive and shrewd, and Kaushik is gentle and polite. These are our precious little ones who give life to everyone in Shanti Bhavan. They simply have a hunger to be loved and are hungry to belong to someone. In their hunger, they love us and they long to belong to us. We also make them very precious by the way we look at them, the way we speak to them, the way we care for them so that life can go on. Their presence fills us with affection, love, friendship, creativity, compassion and joy. Their preciousness is a Christmas for us—it is simply giving life and blessing it.

Christmas is a celebration of giving. We celebrate God’s giving of his Son to us at Christmas. Christianity is a religion of giving: God giving his Son, Son giving himself to us and calling to us to give each other. Let this Christmas celebration help all of you in the coming year gather around the table surrounded by your family or community, laughing, arguing and sharing life with each other.
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