Thailand's HIV/AIDS sufferers find new hope
It hasn’t been easy for Panthida, 40, to live with HIV/AIDS for the past 10 years. She lost her youngest child because of HIV/AIDS. “I had no idea what I should do or how to deal with HIV/AIDS. I thought that I would die soon after. I felt sorry for my elder son as he might grow up without parents,” said Panthida, who is from Thailand’s Chiang Rai province.
It’s much the same for 33-year-old Orapin, also from Chiang Rai, who once had no knowledge of HIV/AIDS and was infected by her husband. “I thought that he was healthy and could be a good father of my future kids, but I was wrong. He died 8 months after,” she said.
Knowledge to Share, Skills to Learn
Panthida and Orapin became friends at an HIV/AIDS center in Chiang Rai supported by Plan Thailand. The center offers sexual education for communities, young-adults, and school children. Members of the center are well-equipped with information and skills on how to take care of themselves and make informed decisions.
“After my friends knew that I had HIV/AIDS, no one came close to me,” said 19-year-old Jane, a member of the center who has lived with HIV/AIDS since birth.
“I was sad. I didn't have any friends and I was all alone. At the time, I didn't want to live and I hated going to school. I had no meaning in life. Since I joined the center, everything has turned positive. I meet new friends, gain knowledge on HIV/AIDS treatment and take part in small knitting activities. Now I am happy mdash;just like I have a new life.”
Jane is one of 26,000 young people who are living with HIV/AIDS in Thailand, a country that has been severely impacted by HIV/AIDS in the last 30 years. The infection is mostly spread through sexual contact and by drug users sharing needles.
About 300,000 children aged 0-17 years-old lost at least one parent due to HIV/AIDS in 2009. Of the 100,000 people who suffer from the disease, only one-fifth receive anti-retroviral treatment.
Apart from the health advice offered at the center, Plan empowers people living with HIV/AIDS with life-skill activities.
“We found that members have handicraft skills. We realize their ability and support them,” said Kasidit Saothongthong, Plan’s HIV/AIDs project coordinator in Chiang Rai.
“By making handicraft products, they can earn a small income. We started the center from a few members and now we have 12 in the group. We hope to expand with more funds to support the group members as we are getting newcomers. At the same time, we plan to make their products more marketable.”
Orapin now makes bags for her friends.
“I teach friends at the center how to do it. We enjoy doing this activity together and are willing to share with other people. The products we make could be a new way of therapy for the people living with HIV/AIDS,” she said.
Jane has also been enjoying the opportunity to explore her creative side.
“Starting with zero-knowledge of handicrafts, to me, this is more than just a learning process. I feel like I gain value in life from what I have done. It is so much fun and I am so proud of myself when the products are sold. Now, I would like to know more about handicrafts,” she said.