An Indian man has become a father to two dozen children after adopting 22 HIV positive boys, who were abandoned by their parents after being struck by the disease.
Called lovingly as Papa Reji, Rajib Thomas, 44, from Mumbai, India has been taking care of the once homeless HIV positive children for almost a decade now.
He accommodates all his children in his home where he lives with his wife and two kids- Justin 18 and Jenny, 16.
While his wife Mini Reji cooks all the three meals for their kids, Papa Reji takes care of their education and heath.
Papa Reji was working in the social sector when an incident changed his life forever and made him a father of these special children.
He said: “It was the year 2007 when I met an HIV +ve girl outside a hospital and she asked me to get some noodles for her. I couldn’t get it that day but promised her to come back again.”
“The next day when I went there, I got to know that the girl was no more. I was devastated after hearing the news so it was then when I thought of doing something for these children.”
After the incident, Reji shared his idea of adopting such children with Dr. Divya Mithale, an HIV/AIDS specialist at Jyoti’s Care Center who motivated him to take in the children.
Soon, two HIV +ve children were sent to Rajiv Thomas and he became Papa Reji for them.
“In 2009, I rented a bigger space for my wife and my two children and my other two HIV +v newborns. Initially, it was tough to make the ends meet but we survived the hardships by giving up comfort and helping the HIV +ve children. ”
“Gradually people started donating mattresses, food, and money when they saw us working for these children. My family of 4 slowly expanded to 24 as more and more children with HIV were sent to me from different hospitals.”
The proud father gives credit for his noble deed to his wife, who, he says looks after the children just like her own born.
Mini says: “We make sure that none of the children feel left out at home. We scold all of them as much we love them. We celebrate their birthdays here and take immediate care when someone falls sick.”
“HIV +ve children can live for as long as normal human beings so want these children to have a life worth living.”
Mini very fondly remembers an incident when an abandoned HIV+ve boy recovered after he started living with the Reji Family.
She said: “We took the boy in, gave him all the fresh juices and lentils he needed. We began to crack jokes around him, make him play with us and showered him with so much love that within two weeks he was running around the house.”
The children living with the Reji family are thankful to the couple for giving them a dignified life.
Mannan, 15, says: “Papa Reji loves all of us here. He takes care of my every tiny demand has never said a no to anything. I can’t imagine my life without him.
Papa Reji is proud of his family of 24 and they have become the purpose of his life. He believes that being HIV positive doesn’t mean that they have to cut their life short.
He said: “These children all call me Papa and it is the duty of a father to protect his children. So I am not doing anything extraordinary but just taking care of my children.”