Pratap was unwell for nearly a year during his ninth standard. He could scarcely go to school one whole year, and his teachers were worried about whether he would pass his 10th standard exams. They need not have worried at all; Today, his teachers were overjoyed to learn that he had scored 299 marks. Pratap himself was quite positive that he would get through. He is also literally positive. HIV positive.

He and four of his classmates, all of them, again HIV positive, from ‘Ananda Illam’ a home for children infected and affected by HIV, have sailed through their 10th standard exams, despite having a rather difficult childhood. “All these children are ‘AIDS orphans;’ meaning their parents died of AIDS complications. They have been displaced out of their homes, and moved from home to home (relatives) before they landed up here,” says P. Manorama, founder Community Health Education Society (CHES).

Project Ananda Illam is one of the initiatives taken up by CHES to cater to the needs of orphans of AIDS. It takes into its fold children who have lost their parents to the condition, and whose relatives find it difficult to take care of their needs. “This is a big achievement for these kids. While they are now happy in the home, they have been through an ugly lot of circumstances,” Dr. Manorama says.

The children go to the Government School near Periapalayam, and even as they come to the home, they are trained at an in-house school before being sent to the mainstream. “Most children drop off from school, either because they were ill, or their relatives did not send them to school. A break in their schooling years is almost common; some of them are lucky to come here early; not all of them do,” she explains.

If you ask sprightly little Sankari what her study schedule for the 10th exam was, she will rattle off: “We would come back from school, do group study for about one and a half hours, then we will eat, take our pills [anti retrovirals] and go to sleep. So does the group of five children in the home work with each other? “We’ll clarify our doubts with the tuition teachers and help each other.” In the exam hall? “No, no, aunty! Not in the exam hall!” she says giggling away.

She originally wanted to be a doctor, but now, it’s a ‘bank manager,’ Sankari says. “I changed my goal, since they told me that my marks were not good enough for medicine.” Her three elder sisters are her links to a family that was as happy as it was big. Her friend Kani, though has not been that fortunate: she not only lost her parents, but also her brother. She’s now excited about her marks: 255. “I’m going to take the Maths group. We’ll see from there on,” she says.

Her friend Anna, who scored 298 in the 10th exam, is clear what she wants to do: “Be a music director. Yeah. You know, I’ve already composed music for my dad’s video? We are waiting for it to be released.” Guru has scored the highest among the five kids, at 320 marks. He is a first generation learner in his family, and he thinks had his folks been alive, they would have been really proud.

“No doubt they will be proud. It is an accomplishment, in the full sense of the term, after what these kids have gone through. Some years ago, this would have been nearly impossible. The big game changer has been anti retroviral treatment – they have helped the children live normal lives, play, study, go to school, and dream for the future.” (Names of students have been changed)