Nong, who lives in a poor, dusty neighborhood in
Nong has found herself near death many times.
Nong’s 6-year old daughter, Poo, is also HIV-positive. Yet Poo is blessed to have a sponsor through Friendship International, a Christian child advocacy ministry that helps children from economic, social and physical poverty.
Through Friendship’s Child Sponsorship Program, Poo enjoys health care, nutritional supplements, educational opportunities, biblical training and much more. She also receives lifesaving benefits through Friendship’s AIDS Initiative, such as medical check-ups and treatments to help her stay strong.
Nong wears her T-shirt to fight the heavy public stigma surrounding the disease in
Others believe that anyone who has HIV (human immunodeficiency virus), the virus that causes AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome), must be promiscuous and deserves the consequences of that behavior. Still others fear that people will think they too have HIV if they stick by their stricken friends. Tragically, many people who suspect they may be HIV-positive refuse to be tested. Nong has seen too many grow increasingly ill with HIV, uncared for and alone. And that makes her angry.
“Stigma and discrimination are killing people,” she says. So in her fight against HIV, Nong preaches abstinence, promotes HIV testing for everyone, and encourages aggressive medical treatments for victims. She also challenges Buddhists as well as Christians to overcome fear and ignorance, and embrace HIV victims with the love of God.
She knows what she is talking about. Though, Nong, is Christian, she believes that all faiths can come together for the sole purpose to help all human beings.
Nong’s husband, brother and sister died from AIDS and she was left alone to raise not only her three children but also the five children of her siblings - all while she dealt with her own HIV-positive status.
“There was no one to take care of them,” Nong explains. “If I had not watched over them, they would have gone into child labor, prostitution or early marriages in the village, I was not going to make that mistake - so I struggled and took care of them.” Her family’s experience is not unique.
Through Friendship International’s AIDS Initiative, AIDS-affected children and their families receive AIDS awareness education, health screening and medical tests, food supplements and lifesaving antiretroviral (ARV) drugs that can dramatically inhibit the progression of AIDS. Nong explains, “ARV therapy has changed us from just people who are HIV-positive to people who are living positively.”
It wasn’t always that way for Nong. Initially, she lived in denial of her disease. Denial turned into depression. But after years of anguish and fear, Nong came to grips with her circumstance and began making choices that built a new future.
In addition to caring for her newly enlarged family, two years ago Nong and three friends co-founded a support group in their church for people with HIV.
The four women - all HIV-positive, all with children sponsored through the Friendship International program - began supporting and encouraging each other in their daily battles. Their hope spread, and soon others from the community joined the group, which now has over 20 members.
A key distinctive of Friendship International’s AIDS Initiative is that it is coordinated through a local temple or church. Every aspect of the initiative is Christ centered and administered in God’s name.
Consistent medical care, unconditional love and spiritual growth embrace AIDS victims who receive benefits through the church’s and temples (mostly church’s) in their communities. These establishments, whose members are committed to caring for AIDS victims long term, are giving renewed hope and health to women like Nong and their children.
Through the church and the AIDS Initiative, Nong’s support group also received a small grant (100,000 baht) to help its members start income-generating enterprises. Nong makes glass-bead jewelry.
Others sell dry goods from their homes, roast and sell nuts, and make decorated bedspreads to sell. These businesses provide desperately needed money so these mothers can supply food, clothing, and shelter for their families.
One group member explains what life was like before she and her son received help from Friendship International’s AIDS Initiative: “I often got sick with a form of malaria (quite rare for this region of
Friendship International has given us a new start, a chance to live normally again. I now have a purpose, whereas before I thought I would die quickly. But that is not so because of the generous help of Friendship International. I now live with a fresh start.”
Nong’s experience with the horrors of HIV and her unwavering faith in God have also given her a unique perspective on her life. People are shocked when she says, “I am grateful to God for the virus!
The virus has made me realize my purpose in life, and now I enjoy sharing my personal experience to influence others. I have been living with HIV for 14 years now. At the age of 50, I have seen my third grandchild. This is amazing! Friendship International is why I’m still alive today and I can now assist others.”
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