|© UNICEF B-roll Young people and HIV/AIDS 2002|
|Luang Pi Daeng|
When Luang Pi Daeng, a little boy in Sisaket Province of north-east Thailand, lost his mother and found himself alone in the world, he did what many destitute Thais do. He sought shelter at Wat Hua Rin, a Buddhist temple in his region.
There the little boy was taken in by the monks and nuns who gave him food, shelter and an education. Luang Pi Daeng became a monk himself and vowed to give back to the community that raised him. So when HIV/AIDS began ravaging large swathes of Thailand, Luang Pi Daeng led by example.
In an impoverished region of the country where ignorance and superstition make communities reluctant to associate with anyone who is infected with HIV, Luang Pi Daeng opened up the temple to those infected with the virus and visited and tended the sick himself. When he saw that some people refused to even walk past the house of someone who might be HIV-infected for fear they would catch it themselves, he spearheaded a campaign to educate people in his community about the disease and how it is contracted.
The community listened. Buddhist temples are one of the pillars of rural communities in the Mekong sub region, acting as a social hub, spiritual center and sanctuary for the destitute. The monks and nuns command respect as spiritual and pastoral advisers. "There has been a reduction of HIV cases and those already infected now have a better quality of life," says Luang Pi Daeng, now the abbot at Wat Hua Rin.
Education, awareness and support
Luang Pi Daeng's temple is affiliated with Sangha Metta, a UNICEF-supported Buddhist training organization, which has a network of Buddhist temples across Thailand. Sangha Metta runs education programmes for monks, nuns and novices to help combat the stigma, superstition and misinformation attached to HIV/AIDS and to help families and children affected by the disease. The name links the Buddhist virtue of compassion "metta," with "sangha," the term for the Buddhist institution of monks.
Based at Wat Sri Suphan, a Buddhist temple in Chiengmai, Sangha Metta trains monks and nuns in HIV/AIDS awareness-raising, participatory rural appraisal and other useful skills. It also supports their own initiatives in their home temples.
Sangha Metta-trained monks and nuns use their training and experience to help community leaders assess and plan for the impacts of HIV/AIDS and organize a range of awareness-raising activities. Some of the local temples also provide scholarships and material support to families affected by HIV/AIDS.
UNICEF is now supporting Sangha Metta to train temple school teachers and administrators to join the Child Friendly Schools Programme. There are still large numbers of 'temple schools' in Thailand where teachers include both monks and lay people. Sangha Metta has now trained over 1,500 monks and nuns on AIDS prevention and care. It has also conducted training in other countries in the region and contributed to the establishment of UNICEF's Buddhist Leadership Initiative in the region.
Through the Buddhist Leadership Initiative, UNICEF now works with Buddhist religious institutions-and the responsible government agencies in Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam and China. Training for Buddhist clergy has been held in all these countries and monks and nuns from the region have visited Thailand to study the Buddhist response to AIDS.
Monks are now beginning to visit people with HIV/AIDS at home and in hospitals, to counsel affected families and to lead their communities in demonstrating compassion in action.