The college student using music to tackle HIV stigma

  • “When I lost my parents, I used to feel so alone, like I didn’t have anyone in the world.” Milan was just ten years old when he lost both his parents to HIV. Like thousands of Nepali children, Milan’s parents left Nepal for India in search of work. Milan grew up in India until he was ten, when his mother died of AIDS-related causes. The family then returned to Nepal, but just eight months later, his father also died, and Milan was left in the care of his grandmother.
    “When I lost my parents, I used to feel so alone, like I didn’t have anyone in the world.” Milan was just ten years old when he lost both his parents to HIV. Like thousands of Nepali children, Milan’s parents left Nepal for India in search of work. Milan grew up in India until he was ten, when his mother died of AIDS-related causes. The family then returned to Nepal, but just eight months later, his father also died, and Milan was left in the care of his grandmother.
  • “After I was diagnosed as HIV positive, slowly all the people in the area found out about my status and there was so much discrimination. My friends at school didn’t want to sit with me and they humiliated and bullied me,” he says.
    “After I was diagnosed as HIV positive, slowly all the people in the area found out about my status and there was so much discrimination. My friends at school didn’t want to sit with me and they humiliated and bullied me,” he says.
  • Things improved for Milan when he met a local woman called Lakshmi. After discovering she was HIV-positive, Lakshmi had dedicated her life to helping people living with HIV in Palpa, working as a community home-based care mobiliser for the Family Planning Association of Nepal. Struck by the plight of this small, orphaned boy, Lakshmi spoke to Milan’s family and teachers, who in turn spoke to his school mates.
    Things improved for Milan when he met a local woman called Lakshmi. After discovering she was HIV-positive, Lakshmi had dedicated her life to helping people living with HIV in Palpa, working as a community home-based care mobiliser for the Family Planning Association of Nepal. Struck by the plight of this small, orphaned boy, Lakshmi spoke to Milan’s family and teachers, who in turn spoke to his school mates.
  • “After Lakshmi spoke to my teachers, they started to support me,” Milan says. “And after getting information about HIV, my school friends started to like me and share things with me.” Through Lakshmi's mentoring and encouragement, Milan went on to become a grade A student, leaving school with flying colours.
    “After Lakshmi spoke to my teachers, they started to support me,” Milan says. “And after getting information about HIV, my school friends started to like me and share things with me.” Through Lakshmi's mentoring and encouragement, Milan went on to become a grade A student, leaving school with flying colours.
  • Today, twenty-one-year-old Milan lives a busy and fulfilling life, juggling his university studies, his work as a community home-based care mobiliser for FPAN and a burgeoning music career. Last year Milan wrote and recorded a song to tackle stigma about HIV. “Just talking to people is not enough to provide messages,” Milan says. “Music is good for providing stories and information to people.”
    Today, twenty-one-year-old Milan lives a busy and fulfilling life, juggling his university studies, his work as a community home-based care mobiliser for FPAN and a burgeoning music career. Last year Milan wrote and recorded a song to tackle stigma about HIV. “Just talking to people is not enough to provide messages,” Milan says. “Music is good for providing stories and information to people.”
  • He also offers support to children living with HIV. I tell them: ‘If I had given up at that time, I would not be like this now. So you also shouldn’t give up, and you have to live your life as normal.”
    He also offers support to children living with HIV. I tell them: ‘If I had given up at that time, I would not be like this now. So you also shouldn’t give up, and you have to live your life as normal.”
  • As for his future plans, Milan is clear: “I plan to finish my studies, graduate from college and become a singer.”
    As for his future plans, Milan is clear: “I plan to finish my studies, graduate from college and become a singer.”

Compared to many developing countries, HIV prevalence in Nepal is low. Yet there are deep and complex problems around HIV. Stigma remains a huge problem. People living with HIV say they have faced enormous discrimination, including being ostracized by their communities, bullied at school and work, and exposed to insults and even violence.  

HIV services and support are central to the work of the Family Planning Association of Nepal (FPAN). Its staff and volunteers run services around the country, providing HIV counselling, education on prevention and treatment, and community home-based care services. People living with HIV are at the forefront of this work: FPAN employs thousands of community home-based care mobilisers who are themselves HIV-positive, meaning they are able to provide people with clear, sensitive and empathetic support that draws on their own experiences.   

Photography © IPPF/Jon Spaull