While the State government supports school education of children affected by HIV, there is little help for those wishing to pursue higher education

While her classmates are filling up college application forms, Kalpana of Manapparai is wondering if she can afford to go to a college. The HIV positive girl, whose only surviving parent is an alcoholic, believes getting into college is the only way to support herself, but is clueless how to pay for it.

For children with HIV or born to parents who are HIV positive, and further burdened with poverty, entering college is a Herculean task, irrespective of the marks they have scored. While the State government supports school education of children affected by HIV through the Tamil Nadu Trust for Children Affected by HIV/AIDS special trust formed for the purpose, there is little help for those wishing to pursue higher education. “Finishing school itself is a challenge for these students,” says P. Kausalya, president, Positive Women Network. “Besides the stigma, they have to deal with health issues; sometimes students find it difficult to concentrate due to various problems faced by their positive parents.”

Veni, who scored 86 per cent in Plus Two, is disappointed with her marks. “She always used to come first or second in her class,” says Lakshmi, her mother. “But her father, who has tuberculosis and AIDS, was in a critical condition then, so I’m surprised she scored so much.”

A few students have been admitted in colleges, through the advocacy of activists. “The Collector, business houses and colleges, particularly those who have Red Ribbon Clubs, respond to our appeal for assistance. Still, these efforts are inadequate, as greater number of HIV-affected children are on their way to completing school,” says Tamizh, president, Positive People Network, Tiruchi.

Scholarships not enough

Students can avail college scholarships under various schemes intended for minorities and backward communities, said a TANSACS official.

Srija, a HIV positive student who was keen on engineering, settled for a polytechnic, instead. “My cut-off was 166, not enough for a government college seat. Though a private college waived Rs.30,000 under the first generation graduate scheme, I could not afford the rest of the fees.” For students like Kalpana from remote villages, hostel fees, books and transport remain a difficulty, even when she gets a seat. “I used to get chest pain and faint often during the one-hour ride from my village to school in a crowded bus.”

Paying fees at the time of admission still remains a struggle. “We cannot demand scholarships or full concessions at the time of admission, as we run the risk of losing a seat,” explains Ms. Tamizh. “Neither can a parent openly reveal her status and ask for support during the hectic rush of the admission season.” While networks count on government support, they believe better support from colleges and more corporate sponsorships would give HIV-affected students a positive future.

(Names of HIV positive students and their parents have been changed to protect identity)