INDIA: Atanasio Flores is a Spanish engineer who invested more than 15 years of his life in the industry, had a glorious epiphany evoking a spirit of humanism. He eventually dedicated the rest of his life to bringing life’s golden opportunities to vulnerable HIV-positive girls in India.
In an interview with Transcontinental Times, Atanasio Flores talked about his brainchild, the charitable organization of Fundación Cienvidas (literally translated as Foundation of 100 lives).
Fundación Cienvidas, curated and supported with the love and diligence of a group of people, aims to get 100% of the homeless girls off the streets, especially those affected by HIV, and give them a home, a family, medical assistance, and an education that would guarantee e future.
Flores had always harbored a dream of building a small hospital for children in India. During his visit as a volunteer at an HIV-dedicated orphanage in Jaipur, Flores realized his path had already been decided for him.
His vision was of an orphanage where stigmatized and abandoned HIV-positive children can have a wholesome life with their basic necessities fulfilled- including registration, HIV antiretroviral treatment, medical care, education, and a shot at an amazing adoptive family.
Flores discovered that gender disparity played a huge role in impacting opportunities; it was far easier for boys to enjoy certain opportunities which remained closed off for girls.
When questioned about the explicit stigmas and dogmas surrounding the disease, which often turns the affected into social outcasts and untouchables like lepers, Flores elucidated the topic, citing examples from rural families rooted in superstition and generational trauma.
“There is an impending stigma against people affected/infected by HIV because of ignorance, shame, and fear that leads to the children’s abandonment,” says Flores.
The need for inclusion
From his volunteering experiences in the rural parts of India steeped in stigmas and superstitions, Flores found that most of these HIV-positive children were born to HIV-positive parents (typically Dalit), wherein the father died early, leaving the mother and child destitute and abandoned. Then the child is taken to an orphanage, and the rest of the family (uncles, grandparents) no nothing of the ward and are hesitant to take care of her needs.
Even in cases when the child is negative, her family legacy of positive HIV cases renders her miserable and wretched, as an object of untouchability and social ostracization.
To cope with the psychological trauma and social stigma of HIV, Flores advises the establishment of advocacy programs or formation workshops to represent HIV-positive affected people as normal, self-reliant, and confident who have turned their lives around. In that case, “real-life living references are the best way to cope with this stigma,” he says.
Flores elucidated upon the operations and projects that Foundation CIENVIDAS works on, which include building orphanages, medical centers, and schools for vulnerable HIV-positive girls in Pandharpur (starting in 2023) and Jaipur (as and when a sponsor allots land).
Moreover, the Foundation is focused on bringing in more sponsors for greater financial resources in building schools and medical centres and providing adaptive facilities to needy children.
“We get and manage sponsors from Spain to send monthly the funds to sustain and school girls in 5 partner orphanages in India: 3 in Jaipur (RA), 1 in Pandharpur (MA), and 1 in Tiruchengode (TN),” Flores revealed. Funds are set aside for various essential necessities like beds, linens, clothes, building renovation and maintenance, staff reinforcement, and infrastructural funds needed for schooling and medical treatment.
Additionally, the Foundation immensely focuses on acquiring and sending volunteers from Spain to some programs in India in order to get more private support.
As a concluding inspirational message of hope and fulfillment, we asked Flores to say a few words of encouragement that could spark revolutionary changes in turning the conventional narrative around HIV and other stigmatized diseases like leprosy.
“Those girls, by the thousands, are right now on the streets, alone, with hunger, with fear… abandoned. They do not appear in any registry or census. They will not have access to any treatment, so they will develop the SIDA and die. They do not exist…
“Help us say that they exist. Help us give them the life they deserve.”