Meet the college student who uses his music to battle the stigma surrounding HIV
Milan Khadka was just ten years old when he lost both his parents to HIV. “When I lost my parents, I used to feel so alone, like I didn’t have anyone in the world,” he says. “Whenever I saw other children getting love from others, I used to feel that I also might get that kind of love if I hadn’t lost my parents.”
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 lost my parents, I went for VCT [voluntary counselling and testing] to check if I had HIV in my body,” Milan 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. “At home, I had a separate sleeping area and sleeping materials, separate dishes and a separate comb for my hair. I had to sleep alone.”
Things began to improve for Milan when he met a local woman called Lakshmi Kunwar. 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 (FPAN) and other organisations.
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 she 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. And they said: ‘Milan has no one in this world, so we are the ones who must be with him. Who knows that what happened to him might not happen to us?”
Lakshmi mentored him through school and college, encouraging him in his schoolwork. “Lakshmi is more than my mother,” he says. “My mother only gave birth to me but Lakshmi has looked after me all this time. Even if my mother was alive today, she might not do all the things for me that Lakshmi has done.” Milan went on to become a grade A student, regularly coming top of his class and leaving school with flying colours.
Today, twenty-one-year-old Milan lives a busy and fulfilling life, juggling his college studies, his work as a community home-based care (CHBC) mobiliser for FPAN and a burgeoning music career. When not studying for a Bachelor’s of education at university in Tansen, he works as a CHBC mobiliser for FPAN, visiting villages in the area to raise awareness about how to prevent and treat HIV, and to distribute contraception. He also offers support to children living with HIV, explaining to them how he lost his parents and faced discrimination but now leads a happy and successful life.
“There are 40 children in this area living with HIV,” he says. “I talk to them, collect information from them and help them get the support they need. And 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.”
Watch Milan's story below: