Mangal Shah, the Iron Lady Behind Palawi, a Care Unit for HIV+ve Children
Mangal Shah, lovingly called Mangaltai, runs a residential unit for HIV+ children called Palawi. For over two decades, she immersed herself in uplifting the lives of 100s of hapless children born whose parents died from Aids.
Mangal Shah was no ordinary Maharashtrian bride. Soon after her marriage, the 17-year-old Shah expressed interest in helping the needy. Without much opposition, her family agreed. Mangal regularly visited the government hospital to help disabled people, pregnant women, and HIV-positive female sex workers.
In 2001, Mangal Shah and her daughter Dimple worked on a project to create awareness about HIV/ AIDS among sex workers in Pandharpur. And that is when the unthinkable happened! They received news of two girls aged 2.5 years and 1.5 years abandoned in a cowshed in the nearby village.
Both mother and daughter rushed to the spot. The babies had numerous wounds, and small insects crawled on their bodies. The villagers stared, but none stepped forward to help as the parents had died from AIDS.
When every effort to persuade the villagers to look after the girls failed, Mangal and Dimple took the babies to a nearby government hospital. Sadly, the government hospital too refused admission. The hospital staff had no guidelines or an isolation center to sustain PLWHA.
Mangal and Dimple continued to look for help. They approached six other organizations but refused to admit HIV-positive children. There was no single home for HIV+ children in the district and Maharashtra.
Finally, Mangal Shah decided to build a home for HIV-positive children.
In 2001, Mangal Shah launched Palawi under Prabha Hira Pratisthan. The main aim was to provide care and rehabilitation to the two girls and others who were HIV/AIDS orphans. Palawi in Pandharpur, Maharashtra, became a haven for orphan children living with HIV. At Palawi, children had a chance to survive and grow up. They got access to health, education, and a safe and stigma-free environment. In 2005, Palawi had 15 children admitted to the care home, and the number increased to 69 between 2006-2010.
Presently, over 125+ children between 1.6 months to 21 years living at Palawi. Mangaltai, with the help of 50 office employees and 50+ volunteers, provides treatment and care services to HIV-positive children. Individuals, local donations, and grants from international organizations fund Palawi. It has also raised funds for its work through Milaap and other crowdfunding platforms. The organization plans to create “Matruvan,” a property that can accommodate 500 HIV-positive orphan children. Matruvan will empower HIV children to become self-reliant and independent adults.
‘Palawi’ in Marathi, ‘new leaves of a plant,’ symbolizes a new life for every HIV+ child.