Last September I went to Nepal to do volunteer work. About a week before departing I thought I was working in an orphanage. Seven days before my flight I was contacted by the volunteer company and told my placement had changed and I was now working at a rehab centre for children with HIV/AIDS. I panicked. All of a sudden I no longer wanted to go to Nepal. Why? Because all I knew about AIDS was that it was super contagious and it killed you. That was all school sex-ed taught me.
The same reaction was then repeated when I told each of my friends. We were all certain that I was going to come home infected with what I thought was a highly contagious disease.
My anxieties weren’t settled until I was sat down by my father (who has worked in hospitals for over forty years). He explained HIV/AIDS to me in great detail. But to cut it short, the infection can only be transferred through unprotected sex with an infected person, blood transfusion and swallowing a litre of an infected persons saliva. Unless I was going to be reckless there was a pretty well close to zero chance I’d come home infected.
Upon arriving in Nepal, I learnt that the HIV/AIDS stigma was very ill. The children at MSPN (the rehab centre) had to travel an hour to get to a hospital that accepted HIVpositive patients. The rehab centre itself was pretty shabby with the only nice rooms having been done up by former volunteers. Most appallingly though was a newspaper article that showed three children that had been expelled from school when it was found that they were HIVpositive. I learnt later on in my trip that the stigma was so ill as the Nepalese government has a very anti-HIV attitude, which also gives the country a bad image. The government does not fund HIV/AIDS rehab centres, nor awareness. In fact the government is so anti that lubricant is not sold and condoms are only of cheap quality, which doesn’t help prevent the spread of the disease. The problem is so severe over there that The Nepalese government were confronted by the UN who stated that awareness needs to be set about and that the government needs to rid this ill image that’s being cast accross the country.
Five months later, I can still say without hesitation that working with those kids was the best thing I’ve done with my life. It really opened my eyes up to the much needed awareness of not just HIV/AIDS but all STI’s in general. While over there I was so happy and nothing made me more brighter than by being greeted every morning by “namaste didi” and hugs and kisses from the children. And just incase you were wondering, I DIDN’T come home infected.
Below is a picture of afew of the children I cared for. I dare you to tell me don’t look normal.