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

UNV volunteer Phạm Thị Huệ is herself living with HIV. (UNV)UNV volunteer Phạm Thị Huệ is herself living with HIV. (UNV)UNV volunteer Phạm Thị Huệ brings supplies for people living with HIV. (UNV)UNV volunteer Phạm Thị Huệ brings supplies for people living with HIV. (UNV)
Hai Phong, Viet Nam: I used to have a happy family. I was a worker at a leather shoe factory and Thao, my husband, was a famous chef in Kien Giang, Hai Phong. With the support and love of our parents, there seemed no reason to think that ours would not be a long and wonderful life.

Early in 2001, after months of anxious waiting, I gave birth to a bouncing baby boy. But the overwhelming happiness was soon extinguished when a nurse told me that I had been infected with HIV.

Then I was completely cut off. The doctors put my son and I in separate rooms and did not let us use any of the hospital equipment like blankets, mosquito nets or clothes for a new mother. However, what hurt the most was the fact that once they knew that I had been infected with HIV, my family members did not dare to come near us, although they all loved us. They preferred to stare into our room from the outside and I was left to take care of myself after the caesarean section.

After eight days, we were rushed out of the hospital. By then, our families were refusing to allow us under the same roof. They had rented a small room for us in a dormitory in Kien An. Apart from my husband, no one ever came to help us move in.

Even as we were leaving the hospital and contemplating the hard road ahead, part of me desperately wanted to believe that the positive result of the HIV test was a mistake, although I was well aware that my husband used to be a drug addict and was also HIV-positive. Stuck, and desperate, my husband and I twice thought about taking our lives. However, the thought of Ha Minh Hieu, our little boy, drove away that terrible intention. We lived a life of animals, in darkness, ostracized by people around us. That miserable life dragged interminably on for one year.

As those dark days passed slowly by, my only hope was to see our son grow up healthy and be taken care of by someone after we die. I was silently expecting the worst for our family.

Then one day, the staff of Ha Ly Women’s Union came to see us and welcomed us back into the community with open arms. They explained in detail to my parents-in-law the transmission route of HIV. They also made clear that HIV/AIDS could not be transmitted through everyday communication, that only through the cooperation of families and communities can people living with HIV/AIDS (PLWH) overcome barriers of stigma and discrimination, and that family members are the spiritual support for PLWH to integrate into the community and live fulfilling lives.

The members of our families began to show a better understanding of the virus. After a long time frozen out from the family circle, warmth and love and smiles returned to under our roof. On seeing Hieu say our relatives’ names in the midst of his customary babbling, I was moved to tears. My parents-in-law turned out to be like angels from fairy tales. We were brought back to our beloved house to live in the embrace of our family.

Read on: part II