Film gives voice to people with HIV

July 4, 2008

Film gives voice to people with HIV
18:37′ 20/08/2007 (GMT+7)

VietNamNet Bridge – Bui My Hanh wants people around the world to hear her story – and change their attitudes toward those suffering from HIV/AIDS.

HIV/AIDS sufferer Bui My Hanh tells her story in the docufilm l Am Powerful.
Messenger: HIV/AIDS sufferer Bui My Hanh tells her story in the docufilm l Am Powerful.

That’s why she’s participating in the making of a documentary entitled I Am Powerful, in which she describes the loss of her husband and daughter to the disease and the social stigma she’s had to bear because of her own affliction.

When the documentary is released in March next year by CARE International, an NGO tackling gender inequality, Hanh’s story and those of two other women living in Mali and Bosnia will publicise the need to empower women and girls.

For Hanh, the road to embracing her life and her future has been paved with pain. Losing her husband and three-year-old daughter to AIDS struck Hanh hard, but it was the accompanying social stigma that made life almost unbearable.

As soon as word spread that her daughter was HIV-positive and her husband bedridden with the disease, her family became ostracised from the community.

“They thought that just my breath could spread the fatal virus to them. My tailoring shop became deserted because no one wanted to wear clothes made by an HIV-positive dressmaker.

“When my dying husband wanted to ease his burning thirst with a cold drink, I bought ice and asked my neighbours if I could keep it in their fridge. (She could not afford to buy a refrigerator.) They all refused; they were afraid of being infected with AIDS,” Hanh recalled, tears dripping from her eyes.

Only a handful of people were brave enough to attend the funerals of her husband and daughter, leaving Hanh to cope with losing both her family and her community.

“At that time, the only thing I wanted was death. Death could release me from such unbearable grief. If it hadn’t been for my mother’s advice, I would have killed myself,” Hanh said.

In time, she has grown to recognise that having AIDS doesn’t mean her life is over and that she is not to blame for her infection – messages she wants to send to other victims.

“People avoided contact with me because they don’t have full knowledge about the disease, and I discriminated against myself, too. The key point is to increase people’s awareness of HIV/AIDS,” Hanh said.

Van Don, her hometown in Quang Ninh Province, has become notorious for its rising number of people infected with HIV/AIDS.

About 400 people are thought to be HIV-positive in the district, however, most try to hide their condition. Hanh is among the few who dare to reveal their HIV-positive status.

She has gained some acceptance, however, by joining with 131 other local HIV/AIDS patients to form a support group named Hoa Bat Tu (Immortal Flower).

By joining together, the group aims both So help each other as they fight the disease and to counteract social discrimination – which some victims consider worse than death.

In order to keep others from suffering as she has, Hanh works as a community exchange volunteer for the Greater Involvement of People Living with HIV/AIDS (GIPA), a co-operative project launched by the United Nations Volunteers (UNV), The United Nations Joint Programme on HIV/AIDS and the Viet Nam Women’s Union. The project’s goal is HIV/AIDS prevention in four major cities and provinces of the country.

“Now we’re talking with people about HIV/AIDS. We start with our family members, then we go to sites such as bus stops, hotels or guest houses to educate young guys about how HIV is spread and how to protect themselves,” she said.

In talking about her life and work, Hanh confidently says, “I feel empowered.” The makers of the documentary hope that her new self-image will influence other women.

With HIV/AIDS patient empowerment in mind, the UNV joined CARE International in the production of the documentary, according to Pham Thi Hue, founder of the Hoa Phuong Do (Red Flamboyant) self-help group.”

“We also want international communities and donors to understand that their support in HIV/AIDS efforts (in Vietnam) have produced remarkable results,” Hue said.

Filmmakers wrapped up shooting in Vietnam in March this year and are currently completing post-production in the US.

Once polished, the full-length documentary will be distributed internationally As well as home-viewing, the film is to headline the 2008 International Women’s Day on March 8.

(Source: Viet Nam News)

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