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Midwife becomes mother to Jakarta's children with HIV

Ignorance and discrimination are an added burden these children have to endure, says Ropina Tarigan

Midwife becomes mother to Jakarta's children with HIV

Rophina Tarigan with children under her care at the Vina Smart Era Foundation. (Photo by Konradus Epa/ucanews.com)

Konradus Epa, Jakarta
Indonesia

June 5, 2018

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For a decade Ropina Tarigan has been like a second mother for more than a 100 children with HIV in and around Indonesia's capital, Jakarta.
 
Their parents died as a result of contracting the virus so they now mostly live with relatives and depend on Tarigan's help.
 
The 54-year-old midwife and mother of two started by taking care of five children in 2007 and since then the number has jumped to 130, aged from 5 to 17.
 
Every day she visits many of the children where they live in order to monitor their health and provide antiretroviral medicines.
 
According to Indonesia's Ministry of Health more than 620,000 people in are living with HIV, around 4,000 of whom are children.
 
"The children with HIV had the virus transmitted from their mothers and the mothers contracted the virus from their husbands," Tarigan told ucanews.com.
 
She said of the 130 children under her care, 20 live in her home with her family so that she can monitor their health every day.
 
"Sometimes they feel homesick and want to see their grandmothers," Tarigan said.
 
She previously worked for Kios Atma Jaya, an HIV/AIDS prevention group run by Atma Jaya Catholic University in Jakarta.
 
Discrimination
 
Some people around these children, including schoolmates, know they are living with HIV and are bullied a great deal.
 
"They face such a huge burden at their young age," Tarigan said.
 
Often teachers, students and society in general are not properly informed about HIV/AIDS and this presented a big challenge for her and others providing assistance.
 
"So I decided to inform schools about their status so the children get special attention," Tarigan added.
 
"For example, when they get sick at school the teachers or students can help take them home," she said.
 
Tarigan and her husband provide counseling and educate junior and senior high students about the dangers of HIV/AIDS as well as how to help others who are living with the virus.
 
Accused of Christianization
 
In the early years, Tarigan was accused by neighbors of attempting to Christianize the  children living with HIV. And even a Muslim cleric said at a local mosque that Tarigan had a mission to get them to embrace Christianity.
 
But after witnessing the sincerity of her commitment, most people no longer hold such concerns and she now has good relations with local Muslim leaders and government officials.
 
What shocked her most was that some schools where the children study argued it would be better to give them lethal injections.
 
But she realized that they reacted in that way out of ignorance.
 
"It's a challenge to educate people on how to advocate for and reach out to people with HIV/AIDS," Tarigan said.
 
Another difficulty involves the cost of school fees, buying food and running social awareness campaigns.
 
Every month she spends about $1,000 on campaigning, training, advocacy and education on HIV.
 
In 2015, Tarigan established her own foundation, Vina Smart Era, in densely populated West Jakarta to provide health care and education for children with HIV as well as work for their acceptance by other children.
 
It also has a boarding house, pre-school facilities and a clinic that has provided about 2,500 HIV tests.
 
Volunteers, including students form Atma Jaya Catholic University, assist and there is close cooperation with the Indonesian Commission on Child Protection.
 
The Indonesian Ministry for Health supplies antiretroviral medicines and gives children access to several hospitals and community health centers.
 
Feeling blessed
 
According to Tarigan, finding children with HIV is made more difficult by fears of discrimination once people in a neighborhood know their situation.
 
However, she does everything possible to locate  children living with HIV in need of care.
 
Aditya, 13, and his younger brother, 7, have been living with HIV since birth. Their mother died of AIDS in 2013 and now they live in Ciputat, Banten province, with their father, a construction worker.
 
He expresses gratitude for the support, including medicine, given by the Vina Smart Era Foundation.
 
Mira, 14, an 8th grader, said sometimes she doesn't attend school and cannot focus on her studies because she feels dizzy after taking antiretrovirals.
 
"I want to recover. But I don't feel good taking medicines every day. Sometimes I cry alone in my room," she said.
 
Angela Yvone, a volunteer at the foundation, said helping children gave her an opportunity to learn from them.
 
"I have learned a lot about HIV/AIDS, how it transmitted and how to help those living with the virus," she said.
 
*Aditya and Mira are not real names.
 
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