Positive people

Doing their part

Wangda Dorji made history yesterday morning. He revealed that he is HIV positive. And by doing so, he became the first Bhutanese person to publically disclose that he is inflicted with HIV. He made his announcement and shared his painful story with the guests who had gathered to commemorate World AIDS Day.

Later, in the evening, four more people joined Wangda Dorji. Tandin Wangchuk, Pema Dorji, Sithal Chhetri and Tshering Choden, Wangda’s wife, also revealed that they have HIV. They, along with Wangda, who is the executive director of “Lhaksam”, a nonprofit support group for HIV patients, shared their personal stories on live national TV.

They told us about the torment they felt when they found out that they were infected with HIV. They told us about the agony they had to overcome knowing that they had infected others. And they told us about the suffering they have to endure due to the stigma of HIV/AIDS and widespread social discrimination.

They also told us that they had decided to come out in the open to ease the suffering of other HIV patients, and to educate the rest of us on the realities of HIV/AIDS.

The five of them are extraordinary people. They are brave beyond measure. They have suffered more than most of us ever will. And now, by making their identities and their stories publicly known, they risk exposing themselves to even more prejudices and discrimination.

But their courage has already boosted the fight against HIV/AIDS. They have given the disease a human face – a face that tells us that HIV is not a death sentence; a face that assures us that HIV patients are regular people who live full and productive lives; a face that implores us not to needlessly discriminate against those who have HIV.

They’ve done their part. Five positive people have come out in the open and, just like that, they have demystified HIV/AIDS.

The question now is, will we do our part? Will we learn about the disease? Will we join the fight against it? But most of all, will we treat the five of them, and others like them, as normal human beings?

Photo credit: Kuensel

Sustaining happiness

I’m in Phuentsholing, on my way back from a special trip to my constituency. I went there to receive Her Majesty the Queen Mother, Ashi Sangay Choden Wangchuck, who visited Sombaykha and Gakiling in my constituency, and then to accompany the royal entourage to Dumtoe and Dorokha in Samtse.

Her Majesty trekked for eight straight days, from the freezing Tergo-la in Haa to the hot and humid Yaba-la in Samtse. She undertook this arduous journey – trudging in the cold winds and snow, in the rain among leeches, and in the sun in sweltering heat – to meet the people living in the remotest parts of Haa and Samtse. And Her Majesty met them in their villages and in their homes to tell them about reproductive health, to advocate family planning, and to warn them of the dangers of HIV/AIDS, drugs and excessive alcohol.

Pictured is Her Majesty in Rangtse enjoying a happy moment with the people of Gakiling. There, I was suddenly struck by the realization that Her Majesty’s journey to my constituency, and those through the length and breath of our country, was not just about reproductive health or HIV/AIDS; it was ultimately a campaign to ensure that the happiness of our people is sustainable.

I return to Thimphu today.

A Girl with AIDS

My blogging efforts are paying off – yesterday I was invited to a private screening of “A Girl with a Red Sky”, a film about HIV/AIDS.

The film is short. But it is powerful. Tashi Gyeltshen, the film’s writer and director, presents a series of matter-of-fact conversations between the protagonist, a nine-year old girl dying of AIDS, and Death who has come to get her.

The film highlights the horrors of HIV/AIDS from a very different perspective – it shows Death shocked by the ruthlessness of the dreaded disease.

“A Girl with a Red Sky” was funded by UNICEF and YDF, and has reportedly already caught the attention of international HIV/AIDS activists. I am not surprised.

Nor will I be surprised if the film wins some international awards. Three Bhutanese directors have already shown the way: Dorji Wangchuk (for School among Glaciers, and Long Walk to Education), Kesang Chuki Dorji (for Doma Sellers) and Ugyen Wangdi (for Price of a Letter)

Well done, Tashi, and good luck.

(Of the 19 new HIV/AIDS cases detected in our country last year, 2 were infants.)