Reese is approximately 13 years old but does not know her own date of birth. She came from a government-run orphanage in India and has no known family members. In 2019, we learned of her plight and were able to bring her into the arms of our Pari Healing Home in India, which helps children who live with the stigma of being HIV+. (For their safety, we do not share the faces of children in this program).
When she first arrived, Reese did not speak the local dialect and didn’t even know exactly any of the details of her abandonment. Due to language differences, plus discrimination and alienation due to her HIV+ status, Reese had a difficult time when she was first enrolled in school.
With hard work and an enduring spirit of hope, however, it wasn’t long before Reese truly began to blossom. She soon ranked third place in her fourth-grade class. What an amazing achievement!
Fast-forward just a few years, and we are all thrilled to see the changes in this lovely girl. By the fall of 2022, Reese was enjoying typical celebrations, such as birthday parties for her friends in the home, and holiday festivities.
During the most recent holiday, Reese stepped out of her comfort zone, performing in a group dance that she rehearsed for every evening. One of the senior girls took her under her wing and helped her to get the steps right to the fast-paced music. Bit by bit, Reese has learned that she can do anything once she sets her mind to it, and her confidence has soared.
Reese tells us that her very best birthday came in 2021. Due to the pandemic, schools were closed at that time, but Reese was able to spend the day with her closest friends at the Pari Home. Her friends made beautiful cards for her, and her closest companion made her a lovely photo frame. In the evening, our staff in India presented Reese with a cake which she was thrilled to slice and share with all of her friends. They had cold drinks and pakoras (a crispy vegetable fritter) which had been specially ordered to celebrate Reece’s birthday. A party with friends, gifts, special food, and fun would have been a lovely day for any little girl, but it was made all the more precious when you consider what Reese must have gone through in her earliest years.
These days, school is back in session, and Reese started Grade 7 in January of this year. She says her new teacher is quite strict about completing homework, cleanliness, and punctuality…so, of course, Reese is very diligent about turning in all of her assignments on time. She really wants to stay in her teacher’s good graces! All of Reese’s hard work is paying off, and she scores quite well in all of her regular exams.
Reese continues to learn new things outside of school, as well as in class. She proudly mentioned that she has recently learned to ride a bicycle well enough to ride to school each day. She had already been riding for several months, but she didn’t have the confidence to ride in the streets. In February she set her sights on mastering this skill and practiced each day for about a week. Now she cycles to school each day and is happy that she no longer has to depend on others to be able to get to school.
This year, Reese enjoyed another fun “first” and was able to participate in a very special wedding. It was the wedding of a former resident of the Pari Home. Reese considered the bride to be her elder sister, as this young woman gave her extra love and care from the very first day that she arrived at the home. Reese felt that she could confide in her about absolutely anything. Reese clearly remembers the day when her dear friend left the Pari Home, having grown too old to continue living there. It was a heartbreaking loss to her, but we hope the wedding brought out more hopeful feelings. There is life — and love — after an HIV+ diagnosis.
To make the wedding special for the bride, a sangeet ceremony was arranged by the girls of Pari Home on the day before the wedding. This is a celebration that traditionally includes dance and songs by female family members, and the girls performed to celebrate the bride’s new life. Reese had prepared a special dance for the occasion and performed beautifully, which left both the bride and Reese very emotional.
On the day of the wedding, Reese was one of the first girls to get dressed and was at the gate ready to welcome the guests. She was able to borrow a beautiful saree for the occasion and felt very special. All through the wedding rituals, Reese sat next to the bride, who embraced her place as a family member and ensured that she was at ease. Our manager told us that it was lovely to see the beautiful bond that the two girls have built.
Once an outcast from society and even from her own family, Reese hopes to spread awareness of HIV to others when she grows up.
LWB’s Pari Healing Home, a holistic residential care facility, helps children with HIV, like Reese, who have been abandoned or relinquished. In the home, the children receive not only the medical care and nutrition needed but also emotional and educational support to improve the quality of their lives. We are so very grateful to our supporters who are making a real difference in these children’s lives. As with any child, they are so deserving of dignity and the chance to grow and thrive in a safe environment.
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