20 years ago, everyone thought that HIV meant death. I want to see more and more exemplary and beautiful images of PLHIV visible to everyone.
“20 years ago, when I knew that I had contracted HIV from my husband, I felt like I was falling into hell! Both of us were teachers at the same school. Before getting married, I took him to run an HIV test but he lied to me about the result… Some people asked whether I resented him, and my answer is Yes, I am only human. I resent him. But then I asked myself: “At the time, had I known that he was HIV positive, would I marry him?” I would immediately answer no. Even me, I would deny a person living with HIV, then who am I to have resentment?
We sold everything, cutting out lands piece by piece to pay for my husband’s treatment. Then he passed away. Without a dime in my pocket, I went back near my parents’, holding my 7-month old child, with a persisting thought of dying in my head. I already picked out my most beautiful photo for the altar and prepared some nice clothes for people to dress me in my coffin… When the school offered unsecured loans, I only asked for a one-year loan, thinking I would never live long enough for a two-year loan, then I would leave a burden.
At the time, no one would sell anything to me, even a loaf of bread. They feared that if they sold me anything, no one would buy from them anymore, that the HIV would “fly” into someone else! I then asked to be transferred to teach at a school near my parents’. I feared the scene where I went down to the canteen, people would leave, so I never had lunch at the canteen. My life was a circle of trapping myself in the classroom and heading home immediately after school. I was determined to live that way until I died…
Until the day I passed out in the classroom because of low blood pressure. That was a big turn of event that made me realize how wrong I was.
When I woke up, seeing people helping to carry me to the emergency room, massaging me, making tea for me, I felt the warmth in their love and care even though I was living with HIV. Gradually, people started asking me to go eat at the canteen together, they would share food without hesitation. When it rained, my colleagues gave me their raincoat for fear that I would fall sick. That was when I realized that I had been hating myself… After that, I started opening up more.
And I did not die! 20 years later, here I am, at great physical and mental state as I commit to the treatment, a board member of the network of PLHIV (people living with HIV) in Viet Nam, and simultaneously, Leader of “An Giang Hope” (a self-help group of PLHIV in An Giang).
In the beginning, I read books to better understand healthcare. When I overcame the thought of dying, I joined an HIV peer support group to share our knowledge of healthcare with everyone. Joining the group, everyone has a better understanding of HIV and therefore quickly overcome self-stigmatization. Gradually, I organize livelihood models, taking out loans for members of the group. Because back then, all who were living with HIV were poor and lost their jobs. For many vulnerable cases, I try to mobilize different resources to help them to have a roof over their head, insurance, and education. Then I will join policy advocacy processes to advocate for the rights of PLHIV. Since joining the group, everyone becomes healthier, better, and people are more willing to get closer to PLHIV.
20 years ago, everyone thought that HIV meant death. I want to see more and more exemplary and beautiful images of PLHIV visible to everyone. That will be the living proof for “People living with HIV still live, and live meaningfully!”” – Tran Thi Thanh Van