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November 30, 2011

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Waking up to the harsh reality of AIDS in society

LIVING in cosmopolitan and commercialized Shanghai, where an abundance of wealth and luxury has covered up the harsh realities of life, we never fully understood the inconvenient truths of HIV and AIDS. We often talk and raise concerns about the impacts of HIV and AIDS, but very rarely do we truly grasp the full extent of the problem. Our decision to participate in the Global Issues Network Anhui trip has changed all this. Upon stepping into the city of Fuyang, Anhui Province, we witnessed the impact that AIDS has had on people's lives. We also realized that this trip was much more than a novel experience, or a chance to get more acquainted with our friends - it was a fortunate occasion to better understand people who live very different lives from our own.

We were glad to witness all the wonderful things the Chi Heng Foundation has done to support those lives, and we gained so much appreciation and respect for this organization. "Voluntourism" trips like these are also a part of Chi Heng's efforts to raise awareness.

The Eco-bag workshop that we visited was one of Chi Heng's achievements. It currently has nine HIV-positive women from the town making environmentally friendly and beautifully designed bags, enabling them to support their families independently and at the same time developing local employment. Books donated by the Puxi elementary school, appearing in a reading room that the foundation has constructed, helped us see the influence our community can have on people living so far away.

The first time we met the AIDS-affected kids was definitely not the most comforting moment. We tried our best to get everyone involved in the activities, but the children seemed to be uncomfortable, reluctant to express their emotions and opinions. While they looked like any other children, there was a certain barrier that prevented us from getting emotionally connected with them.

Fortunately, as we painted and played together, the kids started smiling more often and became a little more relaxed. In fact, we were surprised to realize that they were actually very enthusiastic, jubilant and robust. Their vigor and energy were carried into the following day, when we met them at a nearby park to do some physical activities. When we played British Bulldog and Frisbee, the kids were chasing each other, running as fast as they could, and giving us big smiles that we will never forget. The children we saw in the park were not the introverted and timid ones we had met the morning before, but rather like the energetic and exuberant ones that we find in our school. At that moment, we learned that all children are the same: they want to be happy; they want to play with others; and most important, they deserve to be loved. We were inspired by the children's resilience.

Not all the moments during the trip were exciting and enjoyable, though. We still remember walking into the village in order to catch a glimpse of the people's lives. We were struck by how ragged their houses were, devoid of windows and lights inside. Also, we could never forget the tears children shed as they or their grandparents talked about the misfortune of their parents. We not only realized how AIDS affected their lives, but we also learned what added to the tragedy: the poverty and discrimination derived from this particular pandemic.

At last, what we discovered from this trip was that HIV is not a death sentence but rather an enemy to be fought against, and beaten. Of course it will be a tough battle, even though we will never fully understand the difficulty of this fight. However, we believe that we have made one step further into understanding the situation, a small but significant step towards helping those people in overcoming the difficulties of HIV and AIDS.

(Writers are Grade 12 students at SAS Puxi campus.)


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