The Sahara Aalhad Care Home is located in Pune, a 30-minute flight from Mumbai. And Sonu and I traveled there for the day to see the work of this center, which is funded by Keep a Child Alive (KCA), the New York-based charity co-founded by Alicia Keys where I serve on the board of directors. Many of you have ‘followed’ me when I visited KCA-funded programs in Uganda and South Africa. There were ‘angels’ there doing incredible, inspiring things. And I now know that there are committed, compassionate ‘angels’ in India, too!
Elizabeth Samson Selhore is the ‘archangel’, the leader of this amazing haven that provides crisis intervention and interim care for the poorest of the poor. That’s Elizabeth on the left, standing with ‘angels’ Cedric, Hakumat and Aarti, and there is a nutritionist, and doctors, nurses and other care workers who truly save lives every day. More than 90 percent of staff members are prior clients.
While the 30-bed Care Home is the headquarters, Sahara Aalhad also has another smaller clinic in the very poor Yerwada community, and conducts outreach ‘camps’ throughout the slums, using a small ambulance vehicle for transport. HIV/AIDS and Extrapulmonary Tuberculosis (TB) are the two most frequent and serious diagnoses. Some people suffer from both at once, and together they are a truly deadly combination.
As with most every program supported by KCA, Sahara Aalhad takes a ‘holistic’ approach, addressing the need for clean drinking water and nutrition in addition to providing testing, diagnosis, treatment and medication. We saw the distribution of water purification kits, and nutrition packages that included lentils and fortified wheat. Sahara Aalhad works closely with existing local resources, including staffing an in-hospital team. They also provide psychosocial resources, to help address underlying poverty and hopelessness.
Much of it was not easy to see. There were patients who were extremely malnourished; had skin lesions covering their bodies, and who had lost their sight or the ability to walk. We heard stories about rape, sexual slavery, and child abuse, and there are countless widows and orphans. Setting sanitary considerations aside, I shook and held their hands, and looked into so many eyes. Again and again, despite so much suffering, I saw the look of hope.
In addition to providing hope, counsel and treatment, there is a strong emphasis on opportunity and the future. That sets this program apart, I think, and helps give people the dignity and sense of purpose to pull themselves up. We met a young man of 21 who has moved beyond the stigma of his HIV Positive status to attend University and start his own Waste Management business, while sharing a home with two younger orphan boys who are also in school. A young widow had received a micro loan to start her own vegetable business, and man was assisted in establishing a plant nursery. Meanwhile, Sahara Aalhad also helps with basics such as identification cards and bank accounts.
Partnership is the basis of all of the work. Procter and Gamble provides water purification kits, and drugs come mostly from government sources. They partner with Saahasee, another NGO (non- governmental organization) to provide women with instruction in spoken English language, computer training and sewing. And women come together at the Care Home to make bracelets that are sold online through the Mary Fisher “100 Good Deeds” Foundation. What a great concept; check it out at 100gooddeeds.org. Sahara Aalhad also raises funds from the local community, often through specific ‘pleas’ involving client stories posted on the charity’s Facebook page.
We met people who were benefitting from all of these programs. When I looked into their eyes I saw purpose, and pride, and even joy. Seeing happy, joyful children was particularly heartening. We attended a birthday party at the Yerwada clinic, where I was asked to dance with the kids. So, of course, I did! A couple of the boys really ‘rocked’ my sunglasses! The situation is sobering. But seeing the great difference KCA and Sahara Aalhad are making here was, in the end, joyful for me and Sonu, too.