HIV-positive Tam emerges as a community leader
Overcoming HIV discrimination is vital for both preventing infection, and ensuring people living with HIV have access to treatment. This World AIDS Day, we applaud the work of community volunteers like Tam.
Tam, from Bach Thong in Bac Kan province, was diagnosed with HIV in 2007, after she was infected by her drug-addicted husband. “Everything collapsed in front of my eyes when hearing the news. At that time, my son was just two years old. How can he live if both parents are HIV-positive?” Tam recalls.
“A cousin in my husband’s family introduced me to a peer group. We had monthly meetings and discussed the treatment methods as well as other life skills. I found a place where I could be myself,” she says.
At the time, the peer group in Bac Kan province had many members coming from a nearby district. Tam was recognised as an active member and was encouraged to set up an additional group in Bach Thong.
Around the globe, a range of awareness campaigns have been implemented to increase people’s understanding about HIV and AIDS. Peer groups have been one of the most successful models applied at the community level. Despite having one of the highest populations of HIV-positive people in the entire province, no support groups were available in Bach Thong.
“I found it hard to run such a group at the beginning. Many things were new to me. I did not know how to make plans, organise activities or motivate people to participate. I had to learn how to help people be open and feel confident about their future.
“Many of the participants, once they proved positive, lived in their shells. It was really hard to for me to draw them out,” says Tam.
Besides the support from her peer group, Tam also participated in ChildFund-supported activities designed to support peer group leaders. Many former peers undertake this training, sharing their personal experiences and providing guidance to new leaders.
“We share not only our understanding about HIV and AIDS prevention and treatment, but also income-generation activities. For my group in Bach Thong, we have set up a brick production workshop and, with other families, now have a sustainable income to help with raising our children,” Tam says.
Tam’s success as a peer group leader is clearly evident. Her Bach Thong group continuously supports over 115 members and Tam organises training and information sharing sessions for participants. Not only that, but Tam is now a leader in her wider community, providing direct support to 60 vulnerable children affected by HIV and AIDS.