How We Started

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Prelude

Imagine a 20-year-old girl getting married, only to find out that her husband is HIV+, and that she is now HIV+ too!

This is the start of Kousalya’s story.

Married to her cousin so that her ancestral property would stay in the family, she was dazed by the news of her HIV+ status, and withdrew into herself, communicating with no-one. When her husband died seven months later, it was not Kousalya’s in-laws who told her, but a third party. Furious about this, she lodged a police complaint, demanding her share of the property. When her in-laws tried to hush up the complaint, she went to the district authorities with her case, even though this meant that her HIV+ status would become public knowledge. As she faced the challenges thrown at her, Kousalya became determined that something needed to be done to help other women suffering from HIV/AIDS.

Each of us at PWN+ has a story to tell - one where we are victims of tragedy and injustice. But by coming together and supporting one another, we have found hope and courage.

Four Women Meet

Our founders - Kousalya, Varalakshmi, Jones and Hema met at a program organized by the National AIDS Control Organization (NACO), in Chennai, 1997. As the four women interacted with each other, they realised that all women living with HIV/AIDS (WLHA) face stigma and discrimination, and therefore need care and support.

Their first step was to create an exhaustive list of things WLHA need, to lead a life of dignity, and distribute it to as many people as they could.

An Idea is Born

Now, by this time Kousalya had got herself trained in counselling, and regularly conducted support group meetings. She was also working on a project with the Indian Network of People living with HIV/AIDS (INP+), and it was with their support that our founders organized a three-day workshop for 18 WLHA. They discussed the problems they faced, and possible solutions, and the concept of a network concentrating entirely on issues of WLHA began to emerge. By the last day of the workshop, Positive Women Network (PWN+) was born!

A Helping Hand

Aid first came from Alliance Francaise in Chennai, a part of the French Embassy in India. They assisted in writing a report of the INP+ workshop and a proposal for support. They also helped with medical costs and finding jobs for skilled WLHA.

However it was when Dr. Sunda Raoman assisted Kousalya in writing a project proposal for TNSACS that we got the funds to begin a Care and Support project which was inaugurated by the then NACO Director - Mr. Prasada Rao.

Hard Times

Despite this encouraging start, our network still had a number of hurdles to overcome.

With no printer or photocopying machine, our founders dutifully wrote over 100 letters by hand, to let various NGOs, doctors and government bodies know that PWN+ had formed and about the work we were doing.

Also, after the TNSACS project was over in December 1998, we didn’t have any other projects for the next 9 months.

Those early days were tough. However, we learned a lot. The sheer determination we showed in pulling through those days is the source of our strength even today.

Training

Around that time, we were faced with the twin challenges of capacity building and personal development. In 1999, Kousalya attended an English language training course at the Vivekananda Institute, Chennai, so that she could be our spokesperson. Meanwhile we were also training members to tailor, paint and cross-stitch, as an additional source of income. At the same time, our staff was being taught the basic facts of HIV, counselling and group work.


A Ray of Hope

Things started looking up from that point on. A state level meet was organized for WLHA for World AIDS Day, and later Kousalya was approached by CIPLA to feature in a documentary highlighting the need for free Anti Retroviral Treatment (ART) - a cause which she h2ly advocates even today. The documentary was translated into many languages and shown worldwide, and Kousalya became the face of WLHA. The partnership with CIPLA was the start a long-term relationship, and to this day CIPLA provides anti retroviral medicine to our members and their affected children.

In 2000, we organized World AIDS Day programs, with support from the Aids Prevention and Control (APAC) Project and the Tamil Nadu State AIDS Control Society (TNSACS). That same year, INP+ supported us in communication activities, and soon our reputation began to spread.