Tuesday, December 15, 2009

First Home Visit: A CAM Volunteer's Experience

My volunteer placement is with Christian AIDS Ministry (CAM);they work on HIV/AIDS awareness, education, and prevention in the Chiang Mai and the surrounding districts. As part of their mission, they also conduct home visits to local villages in the northern areas to ensure that people living with HIV/AIDS receive the care and access to medicines that they need. After a week or so of reading materials and getting up to speed on their work, I had my first experience out "in the field".

We began by visiting a slum area here in Chiang Mai where about 300 people live. The minister and director of CAM, Ajan Sanan was doing a home visit to a woman living with HIV. Since there were a few of us foreigners with him, the woman agreed to tell us her story. A member of a local hill tribe family, she was sold to a brothel near the northern border at the age of 11. Since she spoke Lahu (rather than Thai), whenever she met a man who spoke her language, she would tell him about her situation and ask for his help in escaping. One man finally did help her get out, but the brothel owner found her and sent her to another brothel in southern Thailand. She escaped again and found her way to Chiang Mai. She now lives in a "home" she put together out of plywood. She has HIV, but is not open about her status out of fear of discrimination. She has taken in a younger woman who is a refugee and also has HIV. They live in the one-room home and make a living from selling items or giving back massages on the street. They use water from a hole for cooking and relieve themselves outside.

We sat there listening to their stories and trying to imagine how they live. As undocumented ethnic minorities and refugees, they don't qualify for healthcare benefits like Thai citizens do. CAM helps women like this get anti-retro viral medications that prolong their lives. The minister offered to pray with the women and asked them what they need. One woman asked for a new home and the other wanted a toilet. We sat around them in a circle, joined hands and prayed with them.

The next morning I arrived at CAM to find the minister hauling a toilet in the back of his truck to bring to the women and their neighbors in the slum. -Rachel, CAM Volunteer

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