To be honest with you, I never really liked kids. I went to an orphanage for kids with HIV/AIDS in Chennai, India to find something charitable to do. Shortly after a week in Chennai, I wanted to leave. The suffering at the orphanage was more than I could bear – the heat, the smell, the discomfort, and the mosquitoes. I booked a flight and said goodbye to the kids. But on the train ride to the airport, something made me turn around: I’m turning the suffering off, but those kids can't. I knew I couldn't take any of them out of that situation, but I could put myself into it.
That was five years ago.
Today, the children at the orphanage and I are the subject of the Sundance-award winning documentary, Blood Brother.The film has strengthened my relationships with people here in India and elsewhere. As a result, we created a 501c3 non-profit, LIGHT (Living to Inspire Global Healing Today), to directly support the children and my efforts. Through LIGHT, we have raised money to help with a lot of needs and projects. We are even developing small businesses that offer the kids fair hours and wages. This is critical now that the kids are living longer due to the introduction of HIV/AIDS medications, and they have trouble maintaining jobs due to their health. We are even getting a photo studio off the ground. It's a very exciting time.
Looking back, in the beginning I was very grossed out by HIV/AIDS. I had a major misconception about it. Their open wounds were terrifying to me. But as I talked to the children, I learned that their deeper pain wasn't the AIDS itself, but what it had done to their lives. A child with HIV/AIDS is still often criticized by their family, friends, village, and society for something they can't control. First their parents die, then their extended families don't know what to do, so they relinquish them. I found they had been abandoned many times over – in fact that's all they knew. This completely shatters their confidence and makes them feel like they can't succeed at anything. It actually brings them to a hopeless place where they can't even develop goals. The AIDS medication will hopefully keep them alive, but it's hard to want to live when they don’t have community support.
My role in these kids’ lives is kind of a caretaker, a father figure, or big brother type. I focus on building the children's emotional needs, as a family member would. I want to help them grow into strong, stable, and confident adults.
I understand I can't erase their pain or replace their beloved families, but I can do my very best to make sure they are loved. My worldview was greatly shaped by the unstable and transient adult figures in my past. I was abused, mentally and physically. I now know more than ever how damaging this was for me – not having someone to believe in you or build you up and how that affects you. The needs of these kids are even greater with the added factor of AIDS.
We are family, and family doesn't leave each other.
What I'm trying to do is create an atmosphere that isn't so grim. My goal is to help restore as much as possible for the kids. I am trying to give them back the pursuit of happiness: jobs, futures, independence, and responsibilities that give them confidence and practical skills that make them valuable assets to society.
We stay together, work together, fight together, cry together, and hopefully die together.
Here’s how you can help:
Host a Screening: Email BloodBrother@tugginc.com to find out how you or your organization can screen the film in a local theater or community venue. Here’s a video of how one promoter in DC did it. You can use these screenings to fundraise for LIGHT, or for your own causes.
See the Film: Visit the website to find a showtime near you
Blood Brother premieres on Independent Lens, hosted by Stanley Tucci, on Monday, January 20, 2014, 10:00-11:30 PM EST on PBS (check local listings). The Blood Brother DVD is getting released on February 4, 2014 and the pre-order of the film is now available on Amazon. For Rocky's full interview, continue to BloodBrotherFilm.com
This project is part of GOOD's series Push for Good—our guide to crowdsourcing creative progress.