A testament of perseverance and courage
“My life has been filled with challenges since childhood” states Neetu as she fights back tears and begins sharing her story “I belong to a big close-knit family of 4 sisters and 3 brothers including me.” “My parents were very hardworking, but my family had many financial constraints” states Neetu as she reflects on the many struggles of her childhood. “The most memorable and painful memory of my life was when my father asked me to quit education because he could no longer support my education. I also wanted to study like other girls, but I could not” states Neetu with deep sorrow and anger.
Like many women Neetu thought that her life would change for the better after marriage but to her despair her life became “worse” after marriage. “The first few years of marriage to my first husband Vinay – didn’t have struggles and my husband and I lived in peace with each other. But after that things started to deteriorate drastically. My husband stopped working and resorted to stealing. He would drink and beat me up. Twice I had to release him from jail. My children, *Rohit (the eldest) and *Seema (middle child), were born into this mess. My mother and I provided for my children. Then when Vinay was sent to jail for 4 years, I was forced to live with my mother who constantly taunted me and made it difficult for me to live with her” states Neetu as she recalls the painful memories of her married life with Vinay. After Vinay was released from Jail, *Sanjay (Vinay’s close friend and her second husband) took Neelam with him by force during a heated argument between Neelam and Vinay.
“My life with Sanjay constitutes the best part of my life. With Sanjay I never feared where my next meal would come from. For the first time in my life, all my needs were met. Sanjay trusted me fully” states Neetu with half a smile. “My daughter *Jyothi was born few years after I moved with Sanjay . It was after her birth that I was diagnosed with HIV. Sanjay tested negative and my children Rohit and Seema also tested negative”. “I was completely shattered and feared my infant being infected with the same virus I live with”.
It was during this time that Neetu first met Shalom staff -Pragya at an ART center and was enrolled into the home-based care in the year 2011. Neetu was initially fearful and apprehensive of the home visits, but as days progressed Neetu slowly began trusting the field staff. “Shalom staff helped me understand my illness better and taught me ways of preventing mother to child transmission of HIV to my daughter Jyothi. Thankfully my daughter Jyothi is HIV negative”. “Shalom stood by me through the most difficult time of my life when one day I found my husband Sanjay in a pool of blood beaten to death by my own son Rohit. I wouldn’t have made it had it not been for the support of Shalom”. “The anger I feel towards Rohit cannot be expressed in words. My relationship with him has not been the same.” Shalom staff got Neetu in touch with one of Shalom’s home-based care family, who helped her get employment as a house help. Shalom stood by her as she began the slow process of living life without her husband.
“Both my daughters have done the Character Development program at Shalom and my daughter Seema has done the Peer Leader program and is currently doing the Peer Educator program for Character Development program.” “At Shalom my children have learnt life lessons that they would not have gotten otherwise. Shalom helped my daughter Seema get out of an unhealthy relationship. Shalom also helped Seema understand the importance of education and prevented my daughter from dropping out of School. I am very grateful for Shalom’s investment in the life of my family” states Neetu with confidence and gratitude. It has been an honor for Shalom to walk alongside Neetu for the past 10 years and witness the many ways this family has shown resilience, courage &hope through times of despair.
(Written by Persis Andrews – HIV Home Based Care Project Manager)
(Picture of Neetu receiving food hampers)