September 2008: This is the average used needle intake at the Health Center in SE Asia that offers medical support for HIV infected people and HIV prevention education
September 2008: This is the average daily used needle intake at the Health Center in S.E. Asia. This center offers medical support for HIV infected people and HIV prevention education.

Listening to the stories of two 21-year-olds, and recovering drug addicts. They were infected with HIV through sharing needles.

Trip of a Lifetime: Meeting pioneers in HIV/AIDS work

I am prepping for an upcoming trip to conduct site visits to NGOs working in the sector of HIV/AIDS on behalf of a donor. Today, I have thought of my trips to southern Asia over the last several years. And I feel honored to have met so many extraordinary people in China, S.E. Asia, from North Korea and all over the world. These unsung heroes have inspired me and as I share their stories in this blog in the future, I hope they inspire you too.

(I keep pinching myself to see if my life is real. Am I really living this adventure? And how can I live out my convictions and core values with even greater authenticity?)

Soon, I’ll be visiting some heroes who are helping drug addicts, women in forced prostitution and those infected with HIV/AIDS as well as those affected by the disease such as AIDS orphans. These people have made enormous sacrifices to support the ones living on the margins of society. Their compassion and courage astound me. How do they do it? What keeps them going each day? How can they not do the work? was one person’s response.

NGO staff disposes of used needles.
NGO staff disposes of used needles.

What can we do to remember people living with HIV?  How can we improve upon the services that are provided to drug addicts and women forced into prostitution (the NGO calls them commercial sex workers, CSWs)? In the S.E. Asian country I visited, the women forced into prostitution at one particular brothel did not have alternative employment opportunities in the region.

That’s no surprise. This is a village area stuck in circa 1960s. The dirt roads blew dust when the occasional motorbike or ancient bus blasted by. The buildings look rickety and run down. And there is no mall, not even a small one, in sight! Only outdoor markets with mystery meat splayed on the wooden table.

The brothel is in the building to the right. This is a Chinese neighborhood of a S.E. Asian country.
The brothel is in the building to the right. This is a Chinese neighborhood of a S.E. Asian country.

There must be more that can be done for these women at the brothel. Lives are hanging in the balance. The women are at risk of getting infected with HIV, venereal disease or suffering violence from their customers. They often come from impoverished family backgrounds and have to go into this line of work to support their families.

September 2008: Children of commercial sex workers playing outside of the brothel.
September 2008: Children of women forced into prostitution or prostituted women playing outside of the brothel.

These women at the brothel, I discovered that they would be open to learning new work skills. I know of some NGOs that offer jewelry making skills workshops and then sell the items overseas. I will see if I can connect these women at the brothel with an NGO that is willing to work with them and go through the oft-arduous process of raising funds for this project.