09/09/2010, 00.00
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Ho Chi Minh City: Catholic and Buddhist facilities for young AIDS patients

by J.B. Vu
Facilities host about 2,500 ranging in age from zero to 16, most living with HIV/AIDS. Nuns and volunteers work in “silence” to ease the pain. Discrimination and rejection are the main problems. The Mai Tam diocesan shelter provides an example.
Ho Chi Minh City (AsiaNews) – Vietnamese Catholics and Buddhists have opened new centres and launched new projects to help 2,500 children (0-16 years) who are living with HIV/AIDS in Ho Chi Minh City. In most cases, they contracted the virus from their parents at birth and often live in conditions of hardship, discrimination and left to fend for themselves. In order to attenuate their suffering, faithful from both religions have dedicated themselves to helping the weak “in silence and without announcements”.

In the city once called Saigon, AIDS afflicts even the youngest. Increasingly, religion-based social organisations are playing a leading role in helping sick children and orphans. They include the Dieu Grac Pagoda in the city’s Second District, the Tam Binh and Mai Hoa centres, the Mai Tam warm shelter and other groups dedicated to social assistance like Medicines du Monde.

The Archdiocese of Ho Chi Minh City set up the Mai Tam shelter in 2005. Led by Fr Toai with the assistance of a number of nuns, it is home to some 50 children, 37 of whom have HIV/AIDS, 27 who are orphans, and 10 who live in conditions of great hardship. In addition, the diocesan facility provides money and psychological counselling to 230 children in difficulty.

Among the centre’s children, Sister Huong singles out the story of a small orphan girl whose parents died of AIDS. At the beginning, the child lived with her grandmother who, however, could not take care of her and brought her to the Mai Tam shelter, asking the priest and the nuns for help.

Before she was brought to the Catholic facility, the little girl said, “No one wanted to sit near me”.

Another girl said that “I miss my grandparents” and “I would like to go home to see how they are doing”, but “every time I go, everyone stays away from me” and “they make me sleep in a separate bed.”

Dr Le Truong Giang, deputy chairman of the Committee for HIV/AIDS Prevention in Ho Chi Minh, agrees that the major problem for children living with HIV/AIDS is the climate of discrimination and intolerance that surrounds them. “Kept on the margin of society, they think that their illness is horrible,” he said.

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