Thai children and youth with HIV among winners of 2010 Red Ribbon Award
By Nattha Keenapan
(The story was published in the Bangkok Post on July 23, 2010)
BANGKOK, 22 July 2010 – The Youth Volunteer Group, a Thailand-based group of children and youth living with HIV, has won the 2010 Red Ribbon Award at the 18th International AIDS Conference in Vienna.
The Red Ribbon Award, a joint effort of UNAIDS family which presented every two years at the International AIDS Conference, is designed to honour and celebrate community based organizations for outstanding initiatives that show leadership in reducing the spread and impact of AIDS. The Youth Volunteer Group was among the 25 organizations selected from some 700 organizations worldwide to receive a Red Ribbon Award at the 18-23 July AIDS conference.
The Youth Volunteer Group was started up in 2008 by some 20 young people who had been participating in creative and artistic activities since 2003 with support from UNICEF Thailand. The activities, which include drawing, painting, photography and drama, are used to help build the children’s confidence and self esteem. Today, the group includes some 200 children and youth from 13- 21 years old who are working to reduce stigma and discrimination and promote self esteem and participation through art and drama activities for some 1,000 young people living with HIV.
The group’s activities involve organizing painting and photography workshops, art and drama camps and exhibitions for children and youth affected by HIV in Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Khon Kaen and Petchburi provinces. In addition, the group also sells the art works they make to help raise funds for children living with HIV.
“I was given a chance to learn and wanted to extend this opportunity to others like me,” said group member Bua *, a 17-year-old girl with HIV who is now pursuing higher education in art. “Also, it’s not that I am just helping them to learn, but vice versa. They give me courage to express myself and help me practice taking on responsibility for my younger friends.”
Chutima Saisaengjan, the group's co-founder and advisor, said the activities organized by the Youth Volunteer Group are focused on the participation of children and youth affected by HIV. Their work is also aimed at promoting improved public awareness on the rights of children with HIV.
“This is the first project to allow young people living with HIV to participate directly in developing services for their own physical and mental health,” said Chutima, adding that the children have also been given opportunities to express their concerns to policy makers.
In May 2009, representatives from the Youth Volunteer Group presented a list of requests to Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjavija and some other 2,000 government officials at the National AIDS Conference in Bangkok. The requests covered several issues, including ending discrimination against children with HIV, promoting education on HIV and sexual relationships, developing child-friendly anti-viral medicines, protecting reproductive health rights and ensuring confidentiality.
Robert Gass, Chief of HIV/AIDS for UNICEF Thailand, said the Youth Volunteer Group’s efforts to increase self-esteem, tackle stigma and discrimination, and increase participation by other youth with HIV/AIDS are “very impressive.”