Mumbai pastor Reji Thomas has taken in and adopted 24 orphaned boys, 16 of whom were abandoned by their parents after being diagnosed with HIV
‘Papa Reji’ has been taking in homeless HIV+ children for almost a decade
A father in Mumbai has so far adopted 24 children, 16 of whom were rejected by their parents after contracting the HIV virus. Pastor Rajib Thomas – or as his children call him "Papa Reji" – has been taking in these formerly homeless HIV-infected children for almost a decade now.
All 24 children live with the pastor, his wife and their own two teenagers
All 24 children live with the 44-year-old pastor in his rented Mumbai home, along with his wife and their two biological teenage children.
While Papa Reji’s wife, Mini Reji, cooks three meals a day for the two-dozen children, Papa Reji sees to their education and healthcare.
"It was the year 2007 when I met an HIV-positive girl outside a hospital and she asked me to get some noodles for her," he told Ashitha Nagesh, for Metro. "I couldn’t get it that day but promised 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 that I thought of doing something for these children."
After that, Papa Reji spoke to HIV/AIDs specialist Divya Mithale about taking the children in, and she arranged for him to take in two abandoned babies. "In 2009, I rented a bigger space for my wife and two children, and my other two HIV-positive newborns," he said.
“I am not doing anything extraordinary, just taking care of my children.” — Papa Reji
"Initially it was tough to make ends meet, but we survived the hardships by giving up comfort and helping the children. Gradually people started donating mattresses, food and money when they saw us working for these children. My family of four slowly expanded to 24, as more and more children with HIV were sent to me from different hospitals."
Mini added: "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." Papa Reji is visibly proud of his ever-growing family, and says they have become his life’s purpose. "These children all call me Papa and it is the duty of a father to protect his children," he said. "So I am not doing anything extraordinary – just taking care of my children."