Friday, October 16, 2009

Education, engagement, and dialogue in Viet Nam

In Viet Nam, HealthRight is working with communities and the health system to combat discrimination and build lasting access to care for families and children affected by HIV. The objectives are broad – changing the world is always a big endeavor – but the impacts are tangible and personal.

Take, for instance, the story Hoi Anh, a young boy living with HIV in Ha Noi.

In early September, Hoi Anh began his first year at school, something he has been eagerly awaiting all year. Holding a balloon in his hand, he was accompanied on the first day by his father. He was both nervous and happy to see so many boys his age, all wearing their new uniforms and ready to go to school. However, when the other parents of the other children in his class realized he was to be their classmate, they hurriedly took the hands of their children and lead them away, leaving only Hoi Anh, his father and the teacher standing alone in the classroom.

Hoi Anh’s father was shocked and disappointed by the situation. His wife and family had faced stigma and discrimination from the community in the past, but he did not expect it to be so strong for his son. In the coming days, the situation improved little, with parents continuing to boycott the class, and over 85% of the students remaining at home. Thankfully, the principal of the school was aware he was bound by law not to discriminate against Hoi Anh as a result of his HIV status and continued to allow him to attend.

Learning of Hoi Anh’s situation, HealthRight staff members and partners banded together to support the family and asked the assistance of the Dong Anh Women’s Union. Together they designed a campaign to deliver information and education to the school and local community. They held talks with local school student clubs, the parents’ association of the school, and in the local community forum where Hoi Anh’s family lives.

The efforts were a success.

After a month of relative isolation for Hoi Anh, three talks at the village level and two meetings with the parent’s association at the school, the students begin to trickle back to class. The project and partners’ efforts have not only affected the attitudes of parents at the school, where over 90% of Hoi Anh’s classmates have now returned, but have positively influenced community attitudes around HIV and the stigma it causes. Hoi Anh is now accepted as a normal student, and is excited to learn and grow with other children from his community.