Today I had the good fortune to experience some World AIDS Day health promotion activities in the hospital, coordinated by our TB Control Program staff. I attended the HIV Ward with two of our Social Workers and met with each patient briefly at their bedside, providing each person with a gift of healthy hot food served in a foam takeaway container and a plastic bag containing basic hygiene products. Each patient was lying flat on a bamboo mat covering the timber base of their bed, looking unwell. Most sat up when they realised we were there to see them, but those who could not thanked us with the chum-reap-suor gesture which I find so terribly gracious. My heart melts everytime someone “chum reap suors” me and even more so when it comes from people who are so obviously destitute that being gracious to me should be the furthest thing from their mind.
We then attended the Paediatric Outpatient Area where, to my delight, two of the young orphans I met in another context recently, happened to be waiting for an appointment. Five and seven years old, their little faces lit up when they saw us and they shouted excitedly “Helloooooo!”. The Social Worker I was with has been a significant guardian in these childrens’ lives and it is heartening to see their interactions together.
They ran upstairs laughing and chattering ahead of us, into an open waiting room with some sparse paintings on the walls and a miniature table and chairs. There were a few other children in this concreted and tiled room and we proceeded to hand out gifts including some toys. The Social Worker had three separate bags, one filled with the foam takeaway containers of food, another with small bags containing a toothbrush, tube of toothpaste and bar of soap and a third bag filled with toys. She removed an item from each bag one by one, passing them to me to present to each child. At his turn the tiny five year old looked up at her with the removal of each item, saying “awkun” to her before turning to me and replacing “awkun” with an impromptu and tiny “san-su”, which I soon realised was “thank you” being expressed specifically for me! As soon as I grasped that he was switching his Khmer thank you to an English thank you on my behalf, I began to cry! A simple action by a tiny child with a huge impact, perhaps intensified by the meaning of the day.
In the afternoon we attended the TB Department, where about twenty patients and family members congregated on bamboo mats in an area of the undercover walkway. The Social Worker facilitated some games designed to promote awareness about HIV. My translator was with us and kept me informed of proceedings. Two different games played out which not only promoted AIDS awareness, but also a lot of amusement. At different stages of each game the current loser was challenged with a question relating to HIV and I was happy to observe a good general knowledge about the way the virus is transmitted and how it can be prevented. At the correct answering of a question, a bag of toiletries was presented. Once the games ended the remaining toiletries and food were delivered to each participant.
A lot of updated information has been advertised in the past few days from various organisations involved in the fight against AIDS. Perhaps this short and simple sentence from The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria is worth sharing here, as it confirms that even the seemingly simple interventions such as those I was involved with today can have significant impact:
“Strategies to fight AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria are working. With continued support, we can be the generation to defeat these pandemics“.