More about inclusion at Hua Rin Temple in Thailand

I recently wrote a blog about measuring the response of a community to inclusion at Hua Rin Temple in Thailand. I have been asked if I had more detail about the measures that the community took in order to encourage inclusion. Here they are. The conversation took place in 2006.

The Health Centre in Thung Satok sub-district, San Pa Tong district, Chiang Mai province takes care of about 3,000 people in 6 communities. About 100 health volunteers and 60 junior health volunteers work with the Health Centre.
The Health District has been collecting statistics for 17 years. Historically, San Pa Tong District has had a large number of cases of HIV/AIDS, so the Public Health Department has been very active here from the beginning of the epidemic.

In the beginning, the Health District worked hard to educate people to understand how difficult it was to get HIV/AIDS. For 2 years, they bombarded the people with education campaigns. At the end of the campaigns they felt that people now knew the facts about HIV/AIDS, but they still did not recognise the relevance of HIV/AIDS to their lives. So they decided that they had to change their strategy.
They started to organise people into groups to get them to think about two questions. The first question was, “If someone in your family had HIV/AIDS, what would you do?” and the second question was, “What could we do to make our community free from HIV/AIDS?”
They also made a big event of World AIDS Day. There were campaigns throughout the District. They held contests where people, including the young people, wrote slogans for HIV/AIDS. The winning slogan was put on posters and they spread them throughout the district. They wrote placards and placed them in all of the communities so that each time that people passed by they would stop and look at these placards and be reminded that HIV/AIDS was still a big problem for all of them.
They have also been using Community Radio to get their message across. The Abbot of Hua Rin Temple, Phra Athikarn Tahanawat has his own programme on the radio station on Tuesday on Saturday. It is a one hour programme. He talks about many different issues on community development and community service. Sometimes he talks about culture, sometimes he talks about health. He does talk about HIV/AIDS but it is usually included under holistic health care. So he talks about drug use. He talks about diabetes.
Inclusion was a problem for a long time. But when the abbot began to talk about HIV/AIDS, people started to listen. And then he came up with the initiative for people with HIV/AIDS to go together to do home visits. At first, they only visited people with HIV/AIDS, but then after a while, they started to visit other people in the community. For example, they also visited people who were sick and elderly people. People started to see the monk and people with HIV/AIDS going to visit all of these various groups and that helped people to understand. And people with HIV/AIDS started to gain more and more acceptance.

The abbot reflected on the early days. When people with HIV/AIDS began to disclose their status, they were already showing symptom and people in the community were afraid. What he tried to do was, on the one hand, work with the community and on the other hand work with people with HIV/AIDS to prepare them to live together. He warned the people with HIV/AIDS to take care of their physical appearance. They had to be sensitive to the feelings of people in the community. So they should avoid getting involved in activities which might cause people to be afraid. For example, when they are showing symptoms, they should avoid cooking food for people. By doing this they would respect people’s feelings.
At the same time he talked to people in the community and told them that people with HIV/AIDS were our children, they are our relatives. And if we don’t take care of them, they are not going to live very good lives and they are not going to live long. We should think how we should react towards these people. We should think how we should react towards these people and how we should take care of them so that our children continue to live with us. And that helped to get people to find a balance on how to behave and to live together.

Somya, a woman living with HIV/AIDS looked back on the progress that the community had made with inclusion. She said that the world had changed a lot. When she first found out that she was HIV positive, her life went down. And then it went up; it improved. In fact, it has turned out to be much better than it ever was before. Earlier on, she was just a housewife. She didn’t have any job or income. But now life is good, because she has a job that gives her an income. She enjoys it. She likes it. She does work with the community. With the work that keeps her alive and well and with the work that she does with the community, she feels very useful. She feels very good about herself.
When Somya talks to people about inclusion, she starts with her own story. She says that as a person with HIV/AIDS, it hurts very badly when people do not include her and discriminate against her. She appeals to them not to stigmatise those who have HIV/AIDS because it hurts and also because HIV/AIDS is not that easy to be transmitted. She appeals to them to find love for and to care for the people with HIV/AIDS that they know.

Out of this story, I have learned that there is no quick and instant answer to a world where we include the excluded. But if we take time, show patience and understanding takes time, we can come to include those that we have excluded.

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