HIV/AIDS Prevention and  Care

The Role of Buddhist Monks and Community Leaders in HIV/AIDS Prevention and Care

The more localized a problem, the easier it is to manage. This concept is not only true, in the general sense, but also in relation to HIV/AIDS.

As there is hardly a community in Thailand that has not been affected, in one way or another, by the impacts of HIV/AIDS it would be unreasonable to expect the government to work alone at solving the problem at a national level. If the HIV/AIDS problem is to be solved it should be dealt with locally. To enable this to happen, all communities need to be made aware of the problem, its impact on their community and the need for their cooperation in solving it.

Without an awareness of the problem, or the motivation to solve it, the community it will not respond and the problem will never be solved or brought under control.

In order to gain community cooperation, it is essential that the community's awareness be raised. Once awareness has been raised, the community should be given assistance in identifying ways to solve the problem and developing plans and strategies.

This can be done through local level seminars such as those conducted recently by the Sangha Metta Project.

The first was held at Wat Dhammachai in Tambon Ban Mae, San Pa Tong District, Chiang Mai, and the second at the Sri Lan Chang Campus of Mahamakut Buddhist University, Wat Sri Sudhavas, Loei Province.

With cooperation from the abbots of those temples, both high-ranking and charismatic monks, letters of invitation were sent to the abbots of all the temples in their districts. Those abbots were invited to attend the seminar in the company of another monk from their temple, and to extend the invitation to lay community leaders such as Village Headmen, members of Village Development Committees, Kamnan and representatives of the Tambon Administrative Council. In this way, participation by spiritual and lay community leaders, the people responsible for the development and well being of the community, was assured.

Because of the respect that the senior monks and temple abbots have earned in their communities, all monks and almost all lay community leaders accepted the invitation.

The seminars, attended by 60-70 participants, were conducted over a 3-day period with the following objectives in mind:

1. to give participants correct and up-to-date information on HIV/AIDS;

2. to raise their awareness of the impact of HIV/AIDS on their communities;

3. to motivate them to accept HIV/AIDS prevention and care as part of their community development activities;

4. to help them devise plans and strategies to conduct HIV/AIDS prevention and care activities in their own communities.

Experts in various fields were invited to attend as speakers and share their knowledge and experiences in working with HIV/AIDS.

The first day was devoted to establishing a correct understanding of HIV/AIDS, the current situation in Thailand and their community, and the socio-economic impacts.

At the end of the first day, participants were divided into small groups, organized at the village level. Each group had about 6-7 members comprising a temple abbot, a monk, and the lay community leaders representing that village.

Using the PRA (Participatory Rural Appraisal) approach, each group was asked to identify the impact that HIV/AIDS was having on its community and the problems that would ensue if the situation were left unattended.

At this stage, they were reminded of the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism - Dukkha (Suffering); Samudaya (the origin of suffering); Nirodha (the cessation of suffering); and Magga (the path leading to the cessation of suffering). They were also asked to consider the functions concerning the Four Noble Truths - Ariyasaccesu kiccani, namely Parinna (comprehension of suffering); Pahana (eradication of the cause of suffering); Sacchikiriya (realization of the cessation of suffering); and Bhavana (development of the path).

For this exercise, they were to replace Dukkha with HIV/AIDS and assess its impact on their community.
In this way, participants came to understand HIV/AIDS and the problems their community would face if the situation were left unattended.

For example, they realized that HIV/AIDS could cause divisions within their community. Without education, more and more people could become infected. As people became sick, there would be a loss of manpower resulting in a loss of income for the community. This would affect development. Children would be orphaned, which could affect the quality of future generations. For monks, it meant that fewer people would participate in religious activities, thus affecting temple care and maintenance. It could mean less support on alms rounds and fewer people becoming ordained, which could have an affect on Buddhism as a whole.

With a raised awareness, participants listened attentively on the second day to talks given by monks and lay people involved in community development and HIV/AIDS related work.

Following the talks, another group activity was set. This time, the same groups were to apply the PRA approach to understanding the Samudaya and Nirodha of HIV/AIDS.

Through this exercise, participants concluded that a core aspect of HIV/AIDS was ignorance about the condition among both the sufferers and the people in general. They realized that there was a solution to the problem and that the resources and personnel were already available in their community.

To overcome the ignorance that led to discrimination, they could rely on the community school, teachers and monks. To prevent sufferers from becoming sick, they could rely on health education and care from the community health station, health officers and monks or lay people who possessed knowledge of traditional medicines. The community development fund could be used to deal with economic problems and loss of income. Orphans could be cared for through the extended family system or in monasteries, in the case of boys. These are just some examples.

By the final day of the seminar, the participants had not only developed a correct understanding of HIV/AIDS; they also had an awareness of the impact on their community.

In addition, they had realized that there was a solution to the problem and had already begun to identify ways of utilizing existing community resources and personnel.

On the final day, representatives of support groups for people living with HIV/AIDS were invited to address the seminar. They talked about problems they had encountered and ways they had dealt with those problems. They also talked about their needs and what they hoped to receive from both the monastic and lay community.

After their talk, a final task was set. The participants were now to find the Magga and Bhavana of HIV/AIDS.

Again, monks and lay community leaders worked in groups to draft plans and devise strategies for managing HIV/AIDS related problems at the community level. They also had to identify potential problems and obstacles and work out ways to solve or avoid them.

By the end of the 3-day seminars, monastic and lay community leaders had realized that HIV/AIDS prevention and care is an integral part of community development work. If their community is to develop and prosper, and the people are to benefit from other types of community development work such as construction of roads and wells, etc. then they must do something to solve the HIV/AIDS problem. The participants also had also drafted an action plan that they could develop and apply in their community.

Follow-ups show that in communities represented by seminar participants, HIV/AIDS action groups have now been set up and community members are collaborating with existing NGOs and resource personnel to develop their work.

More seminars are planned for the future and it is hoped that with the help and support of community leaders, the impact of the HIV/AIDS pandemic in Thailand will soon reduced and brought under control.

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