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.