"You've got AIDS? Go to hell!"
Words and pictures - Nivi Narang, October 2002
“Please can you come and see me. You don’t have to look after me, just see me.” If Jeed could get a message through to his parents, this is what he would want to tell them.
Jeed is 28 years old and is HIV-positive. He last spoke to his parents three years ago, when he told them he had the virus.
“They told me I could go to hell for all they care. I tried to phone them so many times, and each time they would hang up on me.” Unfortunately, this is a common story in Thailand. On top of the trauma of having to come to terms with having HIV and the scarcity of affordable treatment, sufferers often face abandonment by their families. It’s estimated that a million or so Thais are HIV positive.
Fear and shame are the main reasons for families not wanting anything to do with AIDS. Ignorant of the facts of the disease, they fear becoming infected themselves. They worry about shame brought on the family and rejection by the community - from the association of AIDS with drug use, promiscuity and prostitution.
Jeed was born in Pisanuklod on the outskirts of Bangkok. He used to be a dressmaker and made a living from selling clothes. After he discovered he was HIV positive 4 years ago, the little money he made went towards treatment.
Last year his health started to deteriorate and he was unable to continue working. Very soon his funds ran dry and he had nobody to turn to. Even his friends didn’t want to know him. “Some friends knew, but they didn’t accept me. They were scared I would trouble them and ask for money.”
Jeed was sent to the Human Development Foundation by a social worker. This hospice in Bangkok's Klongtoey slum (it's much better known as "Father Joe'"s after the priest who set it up 31 years ago) cares for terminally ill, poor people who have been rejected by their families. Usanee Janngeon who runs the hospice in Klongtoey, Bangkok, explains: “We act like a bridge between patients and their families. AIDS is not about just one person, it’s about the whole family. They all need to come together to give help and encouragement. We try to explain this to the families and get them to visit their relatives in our care. Some help by giving massage, others just offer company. We hope they will change their minds and allow the patients to return home to live and die among their families.” They succeed in around 60% of cases
Jeed knows he will not be leaving HDF. But he no longer feels alone: he has something like a new family. “It has taken many years to heal the wounds and the pain in my heart, and learn to deal with the disease. But the atmosphere and the people are so warm and friendly here – it’s OK now.”
HDF provides 35 patients with food and accommodation, but above all love and understanding.
Jeed now spends him time helping other HIV/AIDS patients. “In the old days there were plenty of clothes to cut and dresses to be made. Now I want to give my life to patients who are less fortunate than me and aren’t able to help themselves. If I wasn’t infected, I wouldn’t understand what heaven is and what giving is. Looking at it that way makes me happy.”