World AIDS Day 2008: Happiness is always within our reach (part III)
01 December 2008
by Phạm Thị Huệ

Hai Phong, Viet Nam: People living with HIV - PLWH - are by no means evil. They are human beings just like any others so they need to be treated with equality. I dearly appreciate that honour, not because of what it has brought to me personally, but because it is such a great gift to all PLWH in Viet Nam. It is a source of encouragement and hope for PLWH for a future free from stigma and discrimination.

Since we got involved in promoting activities against AIDS, both my husband and I feel stronger. We love our work and have found more meaning in our life. The greatest happiness was reserved for the end though. After three years of living in fear and anxiety, we decided to bring our son for the HIV test. The nurse at the lab told me to come back for the result after one week. That one week felt like a century, and I could not think of anything else.

The wait finally came to an end, and I rushed anxiously to the lab for the result: Ha Minh Hieu was HIV-negative. The nurse told me out loud but I couldn’t believe what I’d just heard. I was so carried away with happiness that I broke into tears! My little Minh Hieu is definitely not infected with HIV. With the test result in my hand, I realized I had been given more strength to live. I seemed to wake up to the realization that I needed to be alive for my son, for my friends, for the people I love. I needed to be alive to carry on with my unfinished work…

I’ve been lucky to have enjoyed so much support from Women’s Unions and other organizations. UNDP in Viet Nam has given me and my family a lot of encouragement as well as financial support for the tuition fees for my son. In 2005, I was offered a volunteer position at UNV in Viet Nam. These helping hands have been an invaluable source of motivation with which I have been able to continue the work of improving the lives of people affected by HIV in Vietnam.

At present, I am still working as a volunteer for the project Greater Involvement of People living with HIV/AIDS, or GIPA for short. This is a very important project that does important work. GIPA is not like other projects because it is a pioneering initiative in increasing the participation of PLWH themselves in planning and implementation of HIV/AIDS activities and other efforts to improve their lives, families and communities.

In particular, PLWH like me have the opportunity to make an active contribution to project activities. This means that we are treated like other people and that there is no stigma and discrimination against PLWH in this project as we are working with Women’s Unions. They have given us whole-hearted support and encouragement.

Under the leadership of the National and  Hai Phong’s Women’s Unions, as volunteers we are doing our best to achieve the five objectives of GIPA: (1) build capacity, assist people living with HIV and communities to take an active role in HIV prevention; (2) help PLWH and their families get better access to HIV/AIDS treatment and other related services; (3) reduce stigma and discrimination against PLWH, (4) increase understanding and awareness for implementing GIPA; (5) enhance opportunities for the voluntary participation of PLWH. These are the five objectives which my colleagues and I work towards in our efforts to make life better for those affected by HIV.

In 2007, another surprise came when I was informed that I was selected to be one of 250 Young Global Leaders by the World Economic Forum. Then I was one of the six Vietnamese to be an Olympic torch-bearer.

I am now so satisfied with my present life that often I forget that I am HIV positive. Or rather, I have managed to forget that being HIV positive is something which can stop me having this wonderful life. During the day, I busy myself with community work. At night, I hold my son’s hand and help him with his first attempts at writing. This happiness is like a dream I never thought I would live to see become reality.

I now strongly believe that 'happiness is within everyone’s reach'. I thank all my family members who have given me the confidence and support to pull myself out of despair and do something meaningful with my life. I also thank my friends living the same circumstances, organizations and sympathetic individuals who have given me help and encouragement so that I can be what I am now. In order to repay all these favours, I will do my best to help other people like me so that they can be as mentally strong as I have learned to be.

As I write I extend my heartfelt regards to the readers of this article. I wish that you will be sympathetic with people infected with HIV like me. We are more likely to die because of stigma and discrimination than of the disease itself. I wish that society would realize that one of the most effective ways of coming to the aid of those affected by HIV costs nothing: a spiritual cure. My story is a case in point: if I had not received care and help from my family and community, I would not have been alive to tell you all what a fine life I have been able to lead. Don’t you agree?

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