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Woman of the Month

Woman Of The Month - Jill Pirdas

Jill Pirdas was born in Southport in Northern England, and has two daughters and three grandsons. Encouraged by her mother she came to France in 1966 to learn French. Jill never imagined that she would still be here today and living in Nice. She met her husband whilst she was working as an au pair for a doctor in Villefranche. Marriage is always a learning curve, an even steeper curve when being plunged into the deep end of the French way of life, complicated yet again by the fact that her in-laws were Greek!

Jill enjoyed helping her heart-specialist husband at his surgery. Her first challenge was to answer the phone in French to, often distraught, patients which proved to be quite harrowing at first. It was good training, however, for later life when she was able to be involved in various local associations such as Amnesty International and Les Petits Frères des Pauvres.

Jill is privileged to have a close contact with an NGO - Arogya Agam - in southern India which she visits yearly. Her brother John had been asked to set up a centre for the most marginalised people in this rural "backward" area in 1982. She quickly became involved in fundraising for the project, especially for the children and their families who are affected or infected with HIV. She attends the monthly gatherings where she has got to know many of the families that are supported by the project.

The people caring for the children, usually a single mother or a grandmother, would find it impossible to keep a child at home without monthly allowances. Often a child would be sent off to an orphanage far away; not many institutions will accept children with HIV. The carers of these children are often ill or elderly, they are true examples of unconditional love and a source of great inspiration.

Jill has raised money through making and selling jams and limoncello, organising sales, raffles, catering and organising lunches. The Riviera Woman was able to send a cheque for 575 Euros recently following an event organised by Anna Fill. It has been calculated that just £20 can save a child's life. Money is used to pay extra medical expenses, travel expenses for volunteers so they can keep a constant check on families in distant places to make sure that treatment has not been interrupted and deal with any problems that arise.

Children still die of HIV/AIDS, some of whom Jill has known and loved. There was Melani, a bright young girl who was always willing to get up on stage during Aids Awareness campaigns to talk about her positivity and how it affected her life. "I don't want to be given any special treatment at school, I don't want to be pitied - if I'm naughty I want to be scolded like any other child," she would say. However her secondary school held no pity for her once they found out that she was HIV positive. They concocted some excuse and had Melani expelled.


Jill with Melani

Undaunted Melani followed a course of IT funded by Arogya Agam. However, tragically, in spite of the medical help the project was giving her Melani became very ill. The last time Jill saw the young girl had become skin and bones, but her eyes still burnt with an incredible intensity. "I love everything I do," she told Jill that day. "I love to speak English, I love dancing and painting and sewing, there is so much to love to do!" Melani died six months later at the age of 17.

All is not doom and gloom however. Kanatchi is a bright 15 year old who was elected Education Leader for a children's group in her village. "I want to make sure that every child in my village is being educated, and if I see a child roaming about I want to know why he's not in school!" She and other leaders address issues such as coping with discrimination, child labour, early marriage for girls and the best methods of taking anti-retro viral treatment. "I find I have not much appetite, but I have learned from the project that it is better to eat smaller meals more often, it is very important to eat well when taking the pills."


Jill with Kanatchi

Arogya Agam holds workshops for HIV infected youngsters where they can, for the first time in their lives, socialise and meet others who are in the same situation. Here they are taught Child Rights and how to obtain them. Games and fun activities are used, the children revel in it having never known such positive attitudes. Jill has seen many children blossom over the years thanks to the setting up of children's groups.

We asked Jill our famous 5 questions and this is what she told us...

1. What makes you smile?

Thanks to the association Les Petits Frères des Pauvres, I visit an elderly lady who has suffered from solitude for many years. She finds conversation difficult, but she adores cats! When I bring her to my home for tea she can meet my cats, then we sit in front of Youtube on the internet watching funny situations that cats get into, this always brings smiles. Smiles are so good to share.

2. What or who inspires you?

My mother was always a source of inspiration. She was a great believer in 'when one door closes, another one opens,' and she always saw the good in people. I was horribly shy as a child, she fixed this by sending me to 'elocution' lessons which I loathed, but it taught me the love of poetry, and how to speak in public. Then of course there is my brother John who has done so much for so many people in that poor but beautiful part of India. I've learned so much from the people themselves too who in spite of hardship are always so welcoming and generous.

3. Do you believe in gut instincts?

I've never really thought of this until you asked the question. I think this is an inborn instinct, it's ones Higher Self to be consulted with when needed. Even if it lets me down, I try to learn from it, after all we never stop learning!

4. Your three essential things if you were stuck on a desert island would be what?

I'm presuming there will be fresh water on the island, so I would like a never-ending supply of scotch whisky to go with it!

I love to write so I would need paper and pencils.

I think it would be a good idea to have a manual on how to survive on a desert island.

5. If you are planning a day/night out, what do you enjoy doing the most?

For my day out it would definitely be a walk and a picnic with my lovely family, probably up in the mountains with a good view. In the evening a glass or two of red wine in front of a film on the telly, then off to bed with a good book.

For more information:

www.arogyaagam.org

www.anglican-nice.com

The next fundraising lunch is being held in the church hall of Holy Trinity Church, 11 rue de la Buffa in Nice - price 15 Euros on Sunday the 20th of November at 12.30 p.m.

If you would like to give a donation or help in any way please phone Jill
+33 (0)6 84 39 69 30

Tuesday, 1 November 2016    Section: Woman of the Month
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