Diana in Vietnam

First Name: Diana
Last Name: Wanjiku
Age: 23
Programme: Global Community Development Programme (GCDP)
University: Vesalius College Brussels
Country of Internship: Vietnam

Mai Hoa Shelter: HIV Care Center

This is only a fraction of my wonderful experience but certainly the most life changing.
“Don’t be scared to shake the hand of a client with HIV or to drink out of his/her glass. You cannot get infected that way.” Although I have been deeply involved in researching and teaching about STDs and how to prevent them, I couldn’t stop the voices in my head. This was the very first time I was getting up close and personal to actual HIV/AIDS patients.
Somewhat excited and nerves at the same time, I knew this trip was going to be a life-changing experience.
On arrival, we were greeted by one of the nurses who showed us around and gave a brief summary of the day-to-day activities at the center. We soon found out that Mao Hoa Shelter was the only HIV care center in Vietnam and it is founded by the Catholic Church.
I took advantage of this opportunity to ask the myriad questions I had. We soon gathered in a circle (both the interns and patients) to share. A great majority seemed frail, sickly and emotionally drained but to my surprise, they were pretty cheerful once they warmed up to us. They all introduced themselves, some explained how they contracted the disease and how they eventually ended up in the facility. The stories were beyond my comprehension, sad but I had to put up a brave face since no one likes a pity party. One particularly caught my attention. He spoke quite eloquently and seemed rather calm and collected despite his situation. They all had one thing in common; desperate and hopeful to see another day and perhaps get the medical and metal assistance they need to enable them integrate back into the society.
Shortly after the touching sharing session, we were taken to both the ladies and gents wards to see the weaker and bedridden patients who could not join us for obvious reasons. On our way there, we walked past the kitchen were group of able-bodied patients were helping with the lunch preparations. They were kind enough to offer us delicious Vietnamese fried cassava.
Tear-jerking is an understatement of the experience once we walked into the first ward. All the patients looked so helpless but could still afford a smile. “How can one be strong enough to smile knowing every well that death looms around the corner?” I asked myself.
All in all, I am glad to say that conditions at the center visibly good. It is a surreal and calm environment with fresh air, trees and beautiful flowers; far way from the hustle and bustle of the city and they are making sincere and surprising efforts to help the patients.
I wish all the patients well in their journey to recovery and hopefully all of them will soon be able to reunite with their families and continue their careers. I pray that more well wishes will continue to support the center to ensure its existence and effective running. Finally I will forever hold this experience and the people I met close to my heart and lift them up in prayer. My hope is that people will realize that with all the medicine out there, Hiv/Aids is not a death sentence, it s like any other disease.

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