|© UNICEF Thailand/2007/Thomas|
|Thai children living with HIV/AIDS perform in a stage drama that gives voice to their hopes, fears and dreams.|
By Nattha Keenapan
CHIANG MAI, Thailand, 10 July 2007 – On a stage inside Chiang Mai University’s Art Museum, children donned masks in order to enact a play entitled, ‘Who am I? Why am I here?’ The drama, which was performed before a standing room-only audience, gave voice to the pain, fears and hopes the young actors have as children living with HIV/AIDS in Thailand.
“Do we dare take off our masks?” one of the youths asked the other 24 children sharing the stage. “Don’t you know what people will do to us if they know who we are – what we have? We are not living with a terrible illness, but we are living in a terrible world.”
The show marked the children’s eighth performance and the one-year anniversary of the first staging of the play in Thailand. ‘Who am I? Why am I here?’ is part of an ongoing project to promote creative activities for some 400 Thai children between the ages of 10 and 16 who are living with HIV.
Using the arts to build confidence
Initiated in 2003, the UNICEF-supported project is run by the We Understand Group, a non-governmental organization. The programme uses drawing, painting, photography and drama to build children’s confidence and help them overcome the discrimination they face in their daily lives.
“People in this society still don’t understand enough about HIV/AIDS,” says the Project Coordinator for We Understand, Chutima Saisengjan. “Children living with HIV/AIDS still suffer greatly from discrimination due to this lack of understanding. We found that the arts could be used to address this.”
Ms. Saisengjan has seen marked changes in the children’s behaviour as the project has progressed. The young actors’ growing confidence is reflected by the way in which they now end the play. While many of the children were reluctant to remove their masks in earlier performances, they now take them off without hesitation and face the audience, ready to answer any questions that they pose.
“I feel that I love myself more,” says Aom, 15. “In the past, I didn’t even want to wake up, I didn’t want to meet anyone. But now I can see my value. I am encouraged every time I hear the audience applaud.”
In May 2006, the children performed in Bangkok for Nane Annan and other high-level officials and dignitaries. Ms. Annan was so moved by the performance that she arranged for a film of the play to be screened at the XVI International AIDS conference in Toronto last year. In addition to the play, the conference screened another film entitled ‘The Sea Has a Secret’, which features the children’s voices and art work.
This month the children will stage their final performance of the drama for the Prime Minister of Thailand, General Surayud Julanont, at the National AIDS Conference in Bangkok. Next year, the project will expand to reach 90 more children across the country.
“They have proven that they can do it,” says the children’s drama teacher, Panda Thapanangkun. “HIV/AIDS is not an obstacle to learning. Instead, the pressures they feel in their lives are motivating them to communicate with the world.”