Mar 18, 2013

Vietnam - HIV sufferers handed chance to harvest hope

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Thanks to the dedicated Women's Union in Thanh Hoa Province, families, particularly those affected by HIV, are being given opportunities to turn their lives around and develop a lasting legacy.

When Le Thi Luan found out she had HIV, she felt her future had shattered into tiny pieces.

Thinking only of death, she confined herself to her house. Every time the television or radio featured a programme related to HIV, she clamped her hands over her ears.

But with the encouragement and assistance of the Women's Union of Quan Hoa District, Luan and many others in the central province of Thanh Hoa have gradually overcome their difficulties and committed themselves to improving society.

We visited Luan and her family in Xuan Phu Commune. In the house, which the couple recently finished building, a child of about seven years old was studying hard.

When she saw us, she invited us to wait, then ran up the hill to call her mother.

A moment later, Luan came down from the hill carrying a big bamboo on her shoulder. Pointing at the child, she said: "That's my daughter. Fortunately she is not infected with HIV!"

Although she is only 30 years old, her face is austere, making her look older than her age.

She is thin, with sun-tanned skin, but her dark eyes are always lit up with her belief in life.

She's also very open. As we spoke, she did not avoid questions about her illness, which many people still discriminate against.

Indeed, it took a long time to overcome the harsh opinions of the community, she said. But now, she dares to confess the truth. She tells people that although she suffers from the disease, she still strives to be a useful member of society.

Born into a peasant family, Luan was 24 when she got married. Little did she know that her husband was an intravenous drug user - or that he was infected with HIV. When a test revealed that he had passed the disease onto her, the news was such a shock that she fainted.

But when the commune Women's Union found out that Luan and her husband suffered from HIV, they pledged to help the couple overcome their difficulties.

As the couple had no farming land, the Union asked local authorities to allow the couple to rent one hectare of hilly land to plant bamboos.

The couple had no capital either, so the Union collaborated with the Social Policy Bank to provide them with loans and helped Luan participate in training courses.

In addition, the Union asked local enterprises manufacturing bamboo chopsticks to employ Luan for VND100,000 per day.

Grateful for the organisation's help, Luan and her husband worked very hard.

After three years, they began to harvest the bamboos. Some of the revenue was re-invested in production, while the rest went into the couple's savings. In early 2012, she and her husband were able to build their spacious house, complete with a squash garden.

Luan next devoted herself to thinking of ways to help others in similar circumstances.

At first, many people told their children to avoid Luan, fearing that her disease was contagious.
Undeterred, every day she and her group of friends approached local residents with HIV to provide them with access to health services.

She even walked around the village to deliver condoms and clean needles.

Although she had once not dared to talk about herself to the community, she was now ready to address the public about HIV and even persuaded her husband to participate in educational activities.

With help from his wife, the former addict has quit his drug habit.

"Without the Women's Union's help, I do not know how we would make a living," she said.

Like Luan, dozens of women infected with HIV have found a second lease of life thanks to the Women's Union's assistance.

Nguyen Thi Cuc, also infected by her husband, was struggling before the organisation came to her aid.

Her family was very poor, with two unruly children and parents-in-law who also needed to be looked after.

The Union provided the family with nearly 2ha of hill to plant bamboo, 0.5ha of land to grow rice and generous loans for production. Today, the family leads stable lives and the two children are well-educated.

According to the district Women's Union, the district had 101 women infected with HIV, of which 14 have died. Most of these women were infected by their husbands.

They also live in difficult conditions, with scant amounts of farming land - if any. Their children rarely go to school.

To help these families, the Union regularly sends staff to provide encouragement and concrete assistance. They ask communal authorities to allocate the families arable land for production and ask the Social Policy Bank to provide them with preferential loans.

As a result, many families of HIV-positive individuals have overcome their difficulties and gradually settled into a comfortable life.

"We try to help HIV-infected people realise the value of life and find ways to help society," said Pham Thi Lich, chairwoman of the district Women's Union.


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