Imayam Social Welfare Association: Coimbatore, India
The people of Coimbatore, or the “Manchester of India” – an industrial city in the heart of an industrial state – found they could manufacture more than vast amounts of textiles when confronted with the problem of HIV/AIDS and its patients’ health.
(Women’s names changed for protection.)
Abha, the sole daughter to a wealthy family living in a suburb of Coimbatore, India, enjoyed a childhood of material and emotional joy. Things changed when she was married at the age of 23 to her cousin, a travel agent who traveled across southern India for work and then tested positive for HIV/AIDS in 2002.
A “cinema hero” to her, Abha’s husband died in 2004. She lived and tried to move forward after she tested positive without the help of her parents, who disowned her, and peers, who insulted her. Under these conditions, Abha arrived at Imayam, a livelihood empowerment project developed exclusively for Persons Living with HIV/AIDS (PLHAs), Children Infected with AIDS (CIAs), and Children Affected by AIDS (CAAs) in Coimbatore.
At Imayam, Abha completed computer education and the agency also supported the education of her children, who completed SSLC courses and their first year bachelor degrees in the city “If I committed suicide, my children might have become orphans. But now I live with my children and family. And I am earning a good wage.” Abha said she felt grateful for the help Imayam gave her.
The staff at Imayam met Amita, too, in her home village outside Coimbatore. Noticing the gregarious child was not playing with the other children, some asked why. Immediately, Amita, who had been diagnosed with HIV/AIDS at the age of six, cried and told them she could not associate with her fellow schoolmates, her teachers or her village peers. “It wounded me lot and I felt as being alone, though many of them are surrounding me,” she said. “I asked that uncle (a member of the staff), ‘Is that it the mistake of mine being as CIA (Child Infected with AIDS)?’”
The Imayan staffer – Amita’s”uncle” – told her “no” and took her under his care. Staffers also took her to Imayam offices, where her “aunties” gave her “chocolates and biscuits and helped for my studies.” After her visit to Imayam, Amita, according to the staffers, mingled with other children, played with them and took part in students’ group studies within her schools and villages.
A.N. Meenakshee and N.R. Parameswari, recent graduates of Social Work from a local university in Coimbatore, started Imayam Social Welfare Association, a non-governmental social service organization located in Tamil Nadu, India, in 1992 after seeing a need for the social, economic and health empowerment of vulnerable populations, especially women and children living with HIV/AIDS. A community-based development project, Imayam serves these people through five main programs: the Health Intervention Project, the Women’s Self Help Group Program, the Children Culture Team, the Agriculture Development Program, and the HIV/AIDS Prevention Program.
United Methodist Women – for the past three years – has funded Imayam. Located in Coimbatore, an industrial city – and the third largest in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu – Imayam serves women suffering with HIV/AIDS, as well as children infected with and affected by HIV/AIDS from all walks of life who face a high level of stigma and discrimination.
Furthermore, Imayam helps large numbers of people who come from the slums – about 33 percent of Coimbatore’s residents, mostly migrant – and who also face high incidences of sexual abuse, subjecting them further to HIV/AIDS infection. All of these people have been isolated from their families and, in addition to the physical pain, suffer from situational depression, having no psychological and social relief. Many feel “we are our own islands”, said a recent participant.
In addition to health intervention, social support and schooling, Imayam gives its benefactors a way up through microenterprise training. Microenterprise training not only helps the unskilled and uneducated Children Affected by HIV/ AIDS (CAAs), it also assists in these children’s care of indigent CIAs and PLHAs in their families. To give CAAs some skills and to provide them with an earning capability, Imayam provided microenterprise trainings in the native industry of textile manufacturing and sales, but also in such areas as vegetable and fruits vending, tea and snacks stalls and mobile tiffin (lunch) centers.
In the three years of United Methodist Women’s support, women suffering with HIV/AIDS, as well as children infected with and affected by HIV/AIDS became employed and earning persons through the microenterprise and skills development programs. The ripple effect of this program is also visible in the community – families of Imayam’s key constituencies are enrolling in school, obtaining good grades and pursuing career opportunities.
The community has also started to realize that women suffering with HIV/AIDS, as well as children infected with and affected by HIV/AIDS, are also human beings with feelings and rights to live in society. They are learning that hurting, wounding or ridiculing this population is an offense.
Imayam’s outreach and support is a large plunge in a deep sea of adversity for the HIV/AIDS-affected people of Coimbatore. In addition to the above, below are a few more benefits to the community:
- The increase in treatment seeking among people living with HIV/AIDS, including regular check-ups, nutritional care and the practice of safer sex.
- The ability of people living with HIV/AIDS to pay spontaneous visits to Integrated Counseling and Testing Centers, Blood Testing, ART Centers and community care centers.
- The capacity of adults and children with HIV/AIDS to mingle and socialize with the community during festivals, social functions and other common programs.
- The continuance of school education and forward mobility for the children of people living with HIV/AIDS, as well as the more sustained income for people living with HIV/AIDS.
- The further spread of knowledge, information and education about HIV/AIDS to the population of Coimbatore and its outlying areas.