Kalpana is a young girl who is HIV+; sadly both her parents contracted HIV before she was born and passed the disease onto her. Kalpana is now 15 years old and has had a few battles with her condition, but thanks to great care and help from the centre where she lives, has managed to battle through the hard times and make the most of the good times.
I have known Kalpana for the last couple of years and have become good friends. In 2013 I was able to go down to her care home and provide Christmas presents for all the HIV positive children for the first time and it was great to see the children so happy and excited; not sure if the Nuns were as happy as a few of the presents included water pistols - oops!.
I was introduced to Kalpana through Daz and Caz who have supported Kalpana for years, although at one point they lost contact with her and asked for my help to re-connect. We spent a couple of weeks trying to locate Kalpana and finally found her and took the long trip down to South Goa to meet up at the new centre where she is living.
Daz and Caz have been good friends with Kalpana and her family for the last seven years. During Kalpana's school holidays this year she was able to visit Daz and Caz for a few days which gave them the chance to spoil her rotten. During the holidays Kalpana stays with her older siblings and grandmother but treasures the time spent with her adoptive mother and father. This year they had the chance to relax on the beach listening to her favourite Hindi songs, along with her best friend, Arjun who absolutely adores Kalpana. Arjun is 5 years old and the son of the landlord where Daz and Caz stay.
One day, to give Daz and Caz a little break, Robert took Kalpana out for the day. The main reason was to visit the monkey sanctuary, although we also had time to meet some of the children in the slums and also visit some of Kalpana's friends who had come to the HIV centre in Thivim for a few days.
It was an unexpected surprise for Kalpana to see her friends, she only became aware of where we were heading once we arrived at the gates and she recognised the centre. As we approached she was a little apprehensive, but then as she saw her friends there were a couple of gasps of excitement and then hugs. They were all a bit lost for words, but soon settled into conversation. A more surprising find was to drive past another older child who lives near Robert’s house and passes by each day to work, she was also living at the centre in South Goa but now lives near Mapusa. The girls had a good chat and catch-up about each others’ lives.
Time was flying by so we headed to the Monkey Sanctuary, and as we arrived I asked Kalpana to remove her hairclips, necklace and other items as the monkeys love to grab shiny things, and once they get hold they really don't like to share!
As we walked up the drive, the first monkeys we met weren't the nicest at the centre, monkeys love to bully people through intimidation, sadly this is even more apparent with girls/women and even more so the younger they are but that didn't stop us from saying hello and carefully feeding the monkeys a few sultanas.
As we walked up to the main house we met a few more monkeys who were younger and a little more tolerant to new comers. We sat down and spent a while saying hello to Dixie (pictured) and Dennis, two young bonnet macaques. Kalpana was still a little apprehensive but loved how they reached out and took the sultanas and then held them in the small pouches at the bottom of their jaws. Dixie had a huge store of sultanas so we moved on and said hello to the beautiful Ella, a 3 year old langur monkey. Ella is a special monkey who loves to meet people and was out for her daily exercise; Kalpana wasn't quite ready and was still scared, as Ella is about 4 or 5 times the size of Dixie.
Ella came up to Kalpana and hugged her, although Kalpana was holding onto Robert for support. After a few minutes Kalpana relaxed and started interacting with Ella. It was so nice to give her such an experience, we clicked a few photos so she had something to remember the day with and then headed back for a meal with everyone and then dropped her back home. Thank you to the centre where she stays for looking after Kalpana for most of the year and to Kalpana for putting up with my company for the day.
*Names have been changed for Child Protection Reasons.