Rainbows, bright colours, hearts, stars, red ribbons and positive messages: these are some of the ways Hong Kong students reacted to the issue of discrimination against people living with Aids. Young artists from more than 90 schools in the city teamed up with the Society for Aids Care to design masks that reflect one of the biggest issues faced by people living with the disease.
HIV is the virus that causes the disease Aids. The virus destroys the immune system. Someone infected with the virus is called HIV-positive, but it may take years for them to develop Aids. According to the Department of Health, there are 157 people under the age of 19 with HIV. Of that number, 43 are under 10. For a young person wanting to live a normal life, the idea of others finding out they’re HIV-positive is a constant fear.
“Some people still think that daily contact can transmit the disease. They are very afraid of people living with HIV,” explains the charity’s fundraising and communication manager, Spring Kok.
“Masks are a symbol of identity and protection for people living with HIV, who still face serious discrimination. It’s like people are living behind this disease and have to protect their identity. It’s like wearing an invisible mask every day,” she adds.
The 100 masks on display at the “Say No To Discrimination” exhibition were chosen from more than 2,000 entries submitted during the competition by local, international and special schools early this year. Nurses, physiotherapists, social workers and patients all took part in the selection process. The winner, Ng Man-lam, from Queen Maud Secondary School, created a simple but bold mask. Its contemporary design and accompanying message impressed the judges.
“The different colours represent people from different countries,” she wrote. “When everyone supports people living with HIV/Aids, they are like the spray paint in the middle; they are living without a stain in their life and are living a great and colourful life. Cold colours are used on the two sides, changing to a warm colour in the middle, representing support and encouragement from other people.”
Many students incorporated the red ribbon – the international symbol for caring for people with HIV – into their design, and many decided to divide the masks into two parts to show the contrast between suffering through Aids without care or acceptance, and how bright life can be living without the fear of discrimination.
Thanks to new medication, someone with HIV can stay symptom-free for years. But the rejection from society they face can be very damaging. As well as caring for children and adults living with HIV/Aids, the SAC works to eliminate the misconceptions about the illness.
“We don’t advise children are told about their HIV status until they’re around eight years old,” says programme director Esther Choi. “They’re told that their bodies have a disease and they need to protect themselves, and mustn’t let others touch their blood, and that they must learn to treat themselves if they get injured.
“Normally there’s a very good, positive response. Many go on to study at university, some overseas. But they might have questions like: ‘how will I marry? How does dating work? How do I tell my girlfriend?’ That’s where counselling comes in.”
Kok says: “If there was no discrimination, more people with the disease would be able to seek help. Many of the masks have this kind of message. We want the public to know how the younger generation is thinking about discrimination.”
The exhibition will take place at 5/F, Cityplaza, Tai Koo Shing, this weekend, and then at Leung King Plaza, Tuen Mun, on September 15 and 16.
As well as visiting the exhibition this weekend, students can get involved by attending the SAC’s World Aids Day events on December 1, joining the annual Aids Walk fundraiser, and designing a mask when the new competition opens in October.