A pink teddy bear, posters, soap-bubble makers tucked into the window grill, some birthday caps resting in a neat stack on the TV stand gives a very different look to the office of Ashraya Foundation, the foundation that started for the HIV positive girls post adolescence.
The founder of Ashraya Foundation has a never dieing attitude and she always Where hope never dies.
When death was all she wanted, her little son gave her the strength and inspired her to live and help others like her live. Nagaratna Sunil Ramagouda (34) recently founded Ashraya Foundation to help those affected by HIV and AIDS.
“It was in September 1997, five months after we were married. I was just 17. When we approached our family doctor for advice, he said we would have just have three to four months left. We were shocked. I was pregnant and following the doctor’s advice, I got an abortion,’
Depressed, Nagaratna and Sunil locked themselves inside their house for days. But they needed money to survive, and that forced them to return to work. Sunil, an auto driver, was back to ferrying passengers.However, neither Nagaratna nor Sunil told their families about the HIV infection. Sunil had disclosed it to three friends, who maintained secrecy. One of them saw Nagaratna crying and said, “Don’t let yourself die every moment. It is God who decides and so leave it to him. Just take care of yourself.’
Five years later, Nagaratna’s family wanted to know why she wasn’t pregnant yet.
The couple then approached Dr Shivaram. Under his medical supervision, she delivered a HIV-negative baby boy. It was only then that the fear of HIV left Nagaratna and Sunil.
They decided to spread awareness about HIV-AIDS and came out.In 2014 Sunil expired.
It’s been 20 years since Nagaratna has been tested HIV positive. When she and her husband had been first detected with HIV, doctors didn’t offer much hope, and even said that their days are numbered. The period after they decided to come open about their infection was the most difficult phase of their life, she says.
She appeared in many interviews with the press, only with the conviction that awareness would make matters bearable for others like her. She began work with a local civil society organisation and continued there for several years before ideological differences forced her to move out and start her own centre. It’s been three years that her husband passed away, but her spirit stays indomitable.
She has been counselling individuals with HIV at the civil hospital in Belagavi for many years now. She has also been a co-worker for the US Government’s Centre for Disease Control and also for Myrada, an organisation that works on various poverty mitigation interventions and Red Ribbon Express, an AIDS/HIV awareness campaign train by the Indian Railways, among others. She credits these opportunities for the rich experience she has gained in this field. Her foundation, Ashraya Foundation, has a two-tier structure, an advisory team and a team of volunteers who are known as the ‘Youth for Seva’, which comprises of 30 dedicated college students.
“I don’t want girls and women with HIV to go through what I had. Some may have the strength, but not all do,” said Nagaratna, adding that the Ashraya Foundation aims to provide counselling, training, education and employment.
The girls (currently there are only four girls due to lack of space and resources) at the foundation have learnt sewing and craft. She takes them for regular checkups and ensures they are enrolled for correspondence courses too. They make paper bags, greetings, envelopes with warli motifs on them, shopping bags from saris, machine covers, assorted quill earrings and the like. These are sold at exhibitions and on order as well.