The Teresa Group helps support Toronto children, families impacted by HIV and AIDS

In the heart of Downtown Yonge East, The Teresa Group is working to provide valuable supports to Toronto children and families affected by HIV and AIDS. Nick Westoll reports.

In the heart of Toronto’s Downtown Yonge East neighbourhood, The Teresa Group is doing important work with children and families impacted by HIV and AIDS by providing vital support to families that can be hard to come by elsewhere.

The Teresa Group was founded in 1990 by Penelope Holeton. It was born out of a need to help children during at a time of crisis.

“Children were equally being affected with HIV. A lot of parents were giving birth to children who are positive. The medical technology was not advanced,” Rajesh Pisharody, the executive director of The Teresa Group, said while reflecting on progress made in treatments.

He noted it would take a cocktail of drugs 30 years ago to provide treatment while today it’s mostly a pill a day.

“The standard of living has improved accessibility to medical professionals medical technology, coverage of medications, all of that has come a long way. People are leading much more healthier lives,” Pisharody said.

“There’s a normalization of life again, and it’s not considered a death sentence anymore for sure.”

While it’s more manageable to live with HIV and AIDS, there are still challenges when it comes to stigma.

“What we really look at today is it’s these multiple layers that are impacting stigma. We work with international refugees, newcomers, immigrants, people who are coming from war-torn zones from a lot of conflict,” he said.

Pisharody said The Teresa Group has been trying to address affordability at a time when the number of program participants is increasing.

“It is not yet time for us to sit back. There’s still a lot of work that needs to be done to support the families because by supporting the families only can we create positive, transformational change for that new generation,” he said.

The Teresa Group works day in and day out to provide a wide range of programming. A key one is supporting mothers with newborns who can’t breastfeed.

“It’s the only biotechnical intervention that’s available in the province of Ontario as a means of preventing prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV,” Pisharody said.

“We actually help them access formula for free for the whole year, and so we’re the only agency that does that. Secondly, even diapers, for example, are very expensive to buy and as a baby up to the age of two you need lots of it.”

The charity also provides clothing, lunches, post-secondary education scholarships, youth tutoring, parental support groups and help navigating social services. Pisharody said they hope to keep being able to provide vital support.

“I’m really looking at building the organization to make sure that we have a good staff presence here to be able to support any individual or family member or child that comes in, but more so I’m looking at making ensuring that we are a voice at any platform that makes decisions around the impact of HIV on children and youth: Whether it’s global, local or national,” he said.

Click here to learn more about The Teresa Group.

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