14-year old girl Nandini Kuchhal from Jaipur Rajasthan is one of the teen social innovators as role models for youth.
She is the only teenage changemaker recognized as Rajasthan’s 1st ‘Ashoka Youth Venturer’– a programme that believes that each young individual has the freedom, confidence, and support to drive positive change. Nandini Kuchhal started a campaign named FightRed aiming to fight the social stigma and discrimination against HIV+ children. Through it she helps them to be a part of the society through interaction with other students and youth. Nandini also provides a platform for their skill development so that they can start a line of their own hand-made products. She puts it across different online portals so that they understand the power of social media and experience financial stability.
The stigma around people with HIV+ is much prevalent despite the various awareness programs run by Government and Non-Government organizations. Nandini’s grandparents Gurinder Virk and Rashmi Kuchhal started an NGO Rays-Asha Ki Ek Kiran to provide shelter and other facilities to the children with HIV+/AIDs in Jaipur, Rajasthan in 2010 with 3 children. In 2018 it has two orphanages providing shelter to over 50 children with HIV+/AIDS. Nandini started the campaign, Fight Red, for HIV+ kids to fight the social stigma and discrimination against them. She started ‘Fight Red’ crowdfunding campaign on Dreamwallets and raised over 3.5 lacs for the cause. Her impetus to start the Fight Red campaign came after seeing the plight of children with HIV+/AIDS.
Nandini Kuchhal recounts story of an HIV+ child at Rays, “There’s a child named Hanuman. He’s a very happy child. However, when he came to Rays, he was so frail and weak. He had a bloated stomach and very lean limbs indicating that he was malnourished. As it turned out, both his parents had passed away due to HIV+ and the villagers didn’t take care of him. Instead, they used to feed him alcohol and opium so that he would sleep and won’t demand food. They didn’t understand its grave consequences on an HIV+ child and at 7, Hanuman now has Liver Tuberculosis. It breaks my heart to imagine how many such children are there, struggling to survive, unaware of their situation.”
According to Nandini Kuchhal the biggest problem that the children with HIV+/AIDS is being outcast-ed by society.
She explains, “For any child or teenager, friends are very important. Imagine that one day all your friends turn their backs because they get to know that you are HIV+ or have AIDS. There’s so much stigma around HIV and AIDS and it becomes so difficult for such children to function.”
Nandini’s objective through Fight Red is to help children with HIV+/AIDS become a part of mainstream society through interaction with other students. Fight Red also gives them a platform for developing life skills in such kids increasing their scope of work opportunities in the future. To help this, Nandini has also started selling their hand-made products like candles, handmade cards, etc. on various online portals. “As of now, we have conducted workshops in a few schools and one workshop for truck drivers as they are more susceptible to getting infected by HIV,” says Nandini.
Nandini Kuchhal is a national level squash player. Like other children of her age she too loves to spend time on social media. However, she requests other kids to spend this ‘social media time’ productively and join with a social cause they believe in.
“I know many students think that who’ll listen to them and support their cause as they are very young. At one point, I thought the same. But when I started Fight Red, I realized that it is us who need to challenge the stereotypes set in the society with conviction. If you are confident enough and you know your fight, people will listen to you and support you,” Nandini says.
“When I went to Bangalore to attend the award function of Ashoka Foundation, I saw so many teenagers bending the rules, challenging the stereotypical mindset of the society. We all need to find our calling and do whatever is in our capacity,” Nandini explains.
For a more inclusive environment for AIDS affected kids, Nandini urges schools to join hands with the NGOs working for children with HIV+/AIDS and organize workshops where children with HIV+/AIDs can interact and play with other children. It will build confidence in the children with HIV+/AIDs and also help in removing the stigma around HIV/AIDS amongst other kids.