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Spring reunion brings together host families of children affected by HIV/AIDS in China

© UNICEF China/2005/Vanormelingen
Young girl attends a three-day summer camp for children affected by HIV/AIDS. The camp has been organized for the past two summers by UNICEF and the Chinese National Committee for the Care of Children.

By Zhang Lei

BEIJING, China, 13 March 2006 – The Chinese Spring Festival is always a time of reunion, when people anticipate crowded train stations and packed airports on the way to see their loved ones. This year a special reunion took place in Beijing for a group of 20 families who shared a life-changing experience.

In the summer of 2005, UNICEF and the Chinese National Committee for the Care of Children organized a summer camp for children from all over China who have been orphaned or otherwise affected by HIV/AIDS. Seventy-two host families were selected to accommodate these children for three days. During the Spring Festival, some of those families finally got a chance to talk about their experiences and share what they had learned.

A special bond

“We saw these children on TV. Initially we wanted to help them out of sympathy,” said Mrs. Bigan Sun, wife of a retired diplomat. The couple hosted Wu, a 15-year-old girl who lost her father to AIDS and is currently living with her mother, who is HIV-positive, and an older sister with cerebral palsy.

The host family took Wu to a famous Beijing roast duck restaurant and a bookstore, and offered to buy her clothes and shoes. But she seemed uninterested. Her hosts later realized that Wu, who grew up in poverty and hardship, was not accustomed to spending money and did not want charity. So they changed their plan, cooking for her at home and planning simple activities such as a trip to the Beijing Zoo. As a result, Wu and her host family formed a special bond.

Recently, Wu enrolled in nursing school, hoping to assist others when she graduates. “Helping children affected by AIDS is not individual business. It is the business of the whole society,” she said.

Competing to host campers

Also attending the Spring Festival reunion was Zhang Caiyan, who works for an insurance company. Last summer, she hosted Dongbo, a 14-year-old boy who lost both parents to AIDS in 2003. Now she spends every long holiday with Dongbo, chatting with him, enrolling him in English classes and helping him with school work. She says she cherishes the time spent with Dongbo as if he were her own son.

Along with a network of entrepreneurs and volunteers she met last summer – all of whom share her enthusiasm – Ms. Zhang is establishing a foundation to help children like Dongbo. “I feel very proud that an ordinary woman like me is making such a difference,” she said.

That difference has been felt by many. At the first summer camp for children affected by AIDS in 2004, over 40 hotels refused to house them. Today, 200 families are competing to host the campers next summer.

“We don’t fit most people’s picture of the philanthropist,” laughed one host parent who works as a community social worker and earns less than $80 a month. Shi Guiying, another host who is the office manager at a technology company, couldn't agree more: “You don’t have to be rich to help. As long as we can care for others, we can always help."

And more children are likely to need help as the incidence of AIDS continues to rise in China. According to a joint report released last month by the Ministry of Health, UNAIDS and the World Health Organization, the number of Chinese newly infected with HIV was around 70,000 in 2005, and the disease is now beginning to spread from high-risk groups to the general populace.



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