Thursday, 6 March 2014

Painting a "Wall of Life"

We live in a pretty ugly city.  And so any bit of beauty is always a joy - especially when created by loving hands.

Welcome to the 'Wall of Life' which has come up over the past month on the wall of the Lok Hospital building outside the Jeevan Sahara Kendra!

Till last month - the wall next to the footpath outside the hospital was the normal city wall - some faded colour on it - and the standard grafitti from a political party calling people to attend a meeting.

Thanks to our dear friends Ilaisa and Shubhra, we have been able to literally paint a very different picture.

Ilaisa hails from the S. Pacific island country of Tonga - and came to India with a desire to serve God - and met his wonderful wife Shubhra here. 

Ilaisa is an artist - and when this couple approached us saying that they felt God asking them to volunteer with us we immediately thought of tapping into their artistic sides.

So the 'Wall of Life' came to be.

Ilaisa and Shubhra came up with the basic idea of mural of a train running the length of this 4 ft by 67 ft wall.  Pulled by a cheery engine, each 'wagon' would have a life-affirming message on it.  Our staff chipped in with suggestions and Ilaisa and Shubhra came up with the design.

Who would do the actual painting?  We had just the people.   Over the past half year, our JSK staff have been working with young people, helping them understand the changes taking place in them and the value of making good choices in life through a 15 session adolescent club experience.   We originally targetted the 'graduation' for these clubs on the 19th as our 'painting day' - but then decided to do it on the 27th of February which was also a public holiday.

What a thrill to see the young people at it!

After we got the wall painted and ready for the new art, Ilaisa spent a number of days sketching out the basic designs and getting the lettering ready.   The couple then sourced the paints and brushes for the big day - and so we had 33 brushes ready for the 22 eager painters who joined us to make this artwork.

It was magical to see the joy on the faces as the young guns got going.  Concentration was writ large on their faces as they worked to get the paint on the wall.  Each one focussed on their colour and their bit of work - and then as soon as it was over - running over to be given a new task.

Over the course of the day, we had a number of requests by others to join in too - but could not add too many kids as we had limited numbers of brushes - and a terrific task of mixing paints and getting everyone involved - all at the same time.

Needless to say, the young people loved it.  We had to literally pry them away from the painting at lunch time.  And before we knew it, there were already kids back out at the wall, painting away.

We live in a place where there are so few real opportunities for young people to do something positive.

It was important that each young one was given an opportunity to paint.  Shubhra and Ilaisa coached them well - telling them not to worry if some paint ran down - we would always be able to touch up later.

Part of the joy that the kids had was that what they were doing will be seen by many - and that they played a part to make something beautiful - and meaningful too!

Take the panel above, for instance.  So many kids are still aborted when their HIV positive mothers find out that they are pregnant. The default message by many medical practitioners both in private and govt. service is: "If HIV positive and pregnant, then you should terminate the pregnancy."  This despite the good news that with the correct treatment, it is very possible to give birth to an HIV negative child.  Over the past decade we have helped over 20 women who have HIV during their pregnancies and child-birth - and by God's grace not a single child has been born with the HIV infection to these dear women.

There is hope - but the message still needs to get out!

The "Wall of Life" is one way of seeing people access help at the right time.   We have our phone number featured prominently - so that people can call for HIV testing and advice.  

At the end of the day, we are dealing with a disease which still bears the sting of stigma, even though almost 3 decades have passed since the first cases were reported in India.  We have made huge strides in the treatment of HIV and care for people living with the disease - but they cannot be helped if they do not come for care!

How much longer will it take for people with HIV to be loved and accepted?

The "Wall of Life" is a small step in that direction.  We are so proud of our young people for making this beautiful mural - and trust that the messages of hope that it shares in such a colourful manner will go far towards making a real difference.

Do come by and take a look yourself one of these days!

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