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Thursday, 23 August 2012

Working with HIV/AIDs sufferers in Vietnam by Antonino Faibene

Raising awareness about HIV/AIDS
Raising awareness Photo by Lahcene Abib
British volunteer Antonino Faibene has worked with non-governmental organisations (NGOs) for over 5 years in various roles ranging from head of mission, advisor and Programme coordinator. In 2011 he worked as General Coordinator based in Hanoi, Vietnam on Doctors of the World’s ‘HIV Prevention and Treatment programme from May to December 2011. On his mission Antonino developed HIV/AIDS programme strategies and oversaw the handover of 4 open patient clinics to local authorities in Hanoi and Hoi Chi Minh city.  He explains about what the job entailed:

“My role included dealing with HR issues, writing applications or fundraising initiatives, attending meetings with local partners, and writing reports. I was also involved in planning as Doctors of the World (DOW) handed the project over to local partners.

The teams I worked with were really motivated and it was a great pleasure to work with them. They had been working at Doctors Ofof World for over ten years and felt a really strong bond with the organisation and the beneficiaries.  It was an excellent working environment with the team bonding with one another insofar as we’d eat and socialise with one another.”

Working with those who are on the margins of society who need access healthcare

Vietnam has a relatively good standard of living but specialised health services are still needed, such as HIV/AIDS prevention and basic healthcare for minorities. Strong traditional beliefs linking HIV/AIDS with what the Government labelled as ‘social evils’ have led certain groups to be discriminated against and ostracised by wider society. At times we would come across a certain amount of stigma and discrimination towards our work with at risk populations (such as male sex with malesmen having sex with men, female sex workers and drug users). However, local partners and beneficiaries welcomed the work we were doing. Our beneficiaries often came from poor or dysfunctional families, particularly in the case of sex workers and drug users that inject. I found that Doctors of the World is considered a model organisation in the field of HIV/AIDS.

‘The best part of the job was learning to be more open minded’

I made some good friends and learned a lot about my own attitude towards people living with HIV. I have always considered myself an open-minded person, but I realised I had some prejudices. I was initially unsure about the impact of beneficiaries as peer educators could have on the project because of their difficult backgrounds. Peer education involves training and supporting people living with HIV/AIDS or who are most at risk to effect change through awareness raising, encouraging clients to access our services as well as promoting the clinics. In the end I found that working side-by-side the peer educators were the key to Doctors of the World’s success in Vietnam. At least 30% of all patients who came to the Open Patient Clinics had had direct contact with a peer educator and had been persuaded to come by them.

“I have decided to stay in Vietnam.  Before starting this role I had already been to Vietnam on holiday. I love the country and was interested in the links between the social and medical aspects of HIV/AIDS. Going back to south eastEast Asia after a year in Europe and spending a year in the Middle East really felt like going back home. The green rice fields and familiar faces I saw from the airport on the day I arrived were a warm welcome.”

‘Despite our differences people share the same dreams and fears the world over’

“Throughout my work with NGO’s I have learned that despite different ways of communicating and language barriers, people share the same dreams and fears wherever you are. Volunteering abroad can suit many people. I think having ideals are important but the ‘saving the world’ attitude can be counterproductive if not balanced with a healthy desire to have a happy personal life before trying to improve other people’s lives.”

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