Aids is often perceived as a deadly and contagious disease. Therefore, when I embarked on my trip to visit HIV-affected children in a remote village in China in August 2011, I felt nervous and apprehensive. However, it turned to be a memorable experience that forever changed my attitude towards Aids patients.
The children were brought up by the Chi-Heng Foundation, a charitable organisation that provided them with schooling and accommodation. Many of them were sent to Chi-Heng when their parents died from Aids or when they were themselves diagnosed with the disease. My first impression was that they looked thinner and shorter than ordinary teenagers. I suspect that this was due to the HIV virus, which weakened their immune system in their early childhood. Fortunately, their health condition had improved significantly over the years with medication.
Despite their hardships, the children were as cheerful and energetic as any other. We had tremendous fun playing badminton, hide-and-seek and even singing karaoke. We taught them English vocabularies and Chinese idioms. Without video games or Facebook, they found happiness in the simplest things in life.
Besides playing, they were very hardworking as well. A 16-year-old boy recited an ancient Chinese poem that none of us had studied before even though we have been learning Chinese since pre-school!. In fact, he aspires to be a doctor to find a cure to Aids. The other children were also very attentive and active when we taught them English. Their determination and diligence are what some of our younger generation are lacking – Hong Kong children are simply too fortunate, showered with love by their parents and domestic helpers.
HIV is actually not as scary as most of us thought. Having dinner or physical contact with childen with HIV when playing games would not transmit Aids. The disease can only be transmitted through sexual contact, blood transfusion and specific bodily fluids. It cannot be transmitted through mosquito bites or even kissing (only harmful if up to one liter of saliva is exchanged). So Aids patients can live a normal life just like us. Their lives could be even better if society would stop discriminating against them.
For the HIV-affected children, they may have to face formidable challenges and discriminations at the workplace or university in the future. Like everyone else, they hope to get married and have children. Yet, they are worried that they would transmit the disease to their loved ones. What we can do is to give them our support and discuss the options with them in a sincere and honest manner.
The next summer, I returned to the village with my friends to visit the children. Witnessing their growth and supporting them to pursue their ambitions have given me a true sense of fulfilment and gratification. I look forward to returning to the village again someday, and seeing them become mature and successful grown-ups.