Can we make a difference in the lives of impoverished AIDS orphans on the other side of the globe? Local residents can shout a resounding “yes” by participating in the Sahaya Walks event on Sunday, Oct. 27, in Davis.
For the past six years, the walks have given participants of all ages, from children to retirees, the opportunity to address problems in the world caused by AIDS. Nearly $50,000 has been raised.
“We have sent 100 percent of these proceeds to provide for 22 HIV-infected children in Sahaya’s programs in India,” says Koen Van Rompay, founder of the Davis-based Sahaya International. The funds are “giving the children access to the basic needs of life, including access to life-saving HIV medicines and proper nutritional supplements to keep their health strong.
“Thanks to our annual walks, we have not lost a single child due to AIDS for six years. This is truly something to celebrate,” he adds
The event will run from 2 to 4 p.m. Oct. 27 at First Baptist Church, 38141 Russell Blvd. in West Davis. Organized by Sahaya International in partnership with many faith-based organizations and student clubs, the event features an opening ceremony, with Sandy Holman of the Culture Co-op as the emcee, and an easy half-mile walk followed by fun educational activities and games for all ages, music, lemonade and snacks.
Van Rompay visits southern India at least once a year where he meets the children who are receiving help.
He recalls meeting an HIV-infected boy, Vinod, in 2003.
“After his father died of AIDS, and his HIV-infected mother had committed suicide, Vinod had moved in with his grandmother,” Van Rompay says. “But his grandmother was very old and unable to give him the care and love he needed. He was very thin, and felt extremely lonely and depressed.
“He constantly battled opportunistic infections including tuberculosis and nasty skin infections. His clothes were dirty. He was solely responsible for his own health.”
Thanks to the support of people in Davis, Vinod moved in with an uncle and aunt, who are able to take care of him. Vinod also began taking his medications, including anti-HIV drugs, and his health improved. Sahaya volunteers also took him on trips to the beach and other fun activities, which gave him renewed hope for a future.
“In January 2013, I saw Vinod, now age 22,” Van Rompay says. “He looks healthy as any other youth of his age. He is happy again and smiles now that he has hope and determination. After finishing high school, he went to college and this past June graduated with a bachelor’s degree in computer application. He has now started a master’s degree.
“We are all very proud of him. Witnessing his transformation over the course of 10 years has given me a renewed sense of hope for him as well as for many other children. He inspires me. Vinod is also a true role model for the other orphans in our program.”
Van Rompay says that although the problems seem overwhelming, AIDS is a treatable disease that can be challenged by education and caring.
“There is no doubt whatsoever that, together, we can make an incredible difference and continue to provide a future to these 22 children, and any additional HIV-infected children who may be diagnosed in their rural area,” Van Rompay adds.