Shirish Lawate, past president of RC Pune Metro, RID 3131, says that even though medical advancements enable HIV-positive individuals to live longer and have healthy children without transmitting the virus, it can still be hard for them to find friends or a partner. Lawate works with an NGO called Manavya, which helps in rehabilitation of orphaned children with HIV. For over 13 years now, RC Pune Metro and Manavya together have been holding a special matchmaking camp called ‘Snehbandh – HIV Vivaha Mela’ for HIV positive people. “This camp has resulted in over 350 happy marriages between those infected with HIV, earning the project three district awards,” he says.
This year the project was executed by the alumni of Manavya. “The young, tech-savvy, and enthusiastic team took charge and developed a safe website where interested boys and girls could register and search for a suitable match. Special precautions were taken to protect the identity and confidentiality of those who registered. It was a paperless and hassle-free affair,” beams Lawate. This technological intervention helped to get over 110 online registrations for the matrimony meet.
At the meet, the Manavya volunteers organised games for the participants, which helped them open up and interact with each other. “In today’s fast-paced world, finding the right partner can be a daunting task, made even more complex for HIV patients due to social stigma and discrimination. But the atmosphere in the hall was relaxed and pleasant, and we felt safe discussing marriage terms,” says Rekha (name changed), a participant at the mela.
As an additional step, the parents of those who registered were made to sit in a different room where a counsellor helped them understand that “they should not think about caste and religion while choosing the right match for their sons and daughters. Parents should understand that in a relationship where both partners are HIV positive, there should be a more open and honest communication around topics like sexual health, medical treatment, and managing the infection. This can help create a stronger and supportive partnership,” explains Lawate.
Vivek Kulkarni, the president of RC Pune Metro, was excited as “two marriages were fixed at the mela and many participants made friends with one another. The beauty of this project is that it recognises the importance of providing resources and support to those living with HIV and their families, helping them find love and companionship while breaking down societal barriers.”
DGN Sheetal Shah who was present at the matrimony meet says, “It was heartwarming to witness the happiness and enthusiasm on the participants’ faces. Projects like these showcase the true power of Rotary.”