To reduce discrimination against people living with HIV/Aids, Vietnamese social worker Vũ Thị Ngọc Hoàn decides to stay with them herself.
How does one try to convince people that living among HIV/Aids sufferers or their families, isn’t dangerous?
Education? Awareness campaigns?
Vũ Thị Ngọc Hoàn, a programme coordinator with NGO World Concern Vietnam, tried all that, but people living with incurable disease and the widows and orphans left behind were still being shunned by other villagers.
So along with a colleague, Hoàn decided to walk the talk, staying in the homes of families living with HIV/Aids while conducting education programmes in heavily affected villages.
Inspired by her Christian faith, Hoàn’s empathy for and determination to help people led her to give up a safe career path as an academic after graduating from university as a mathematician.
She first joined an NGO as an administrator but frequently acted as translator for her American boss when he went to the villages.
“I felt a close connection, very close to them,” she says of the many people with disabilities she met.
Encouraged by her boss, she decided to leave administration and work directly with people she wanted to help.
With no formal training in social work, Hoàn got a job with an electronics manufacturer in Penang, Malaysia, acting as interpreter and social worker for her many countrymen in the factory, on top of working in production.
“All of the students were very much inspired by the professors’ heart. It really inspires us to love people, especially vulnerable people”
After cutting her teeth helping to tackle what she describes as the many social problems at the factory’s living quarters for three years, she returned to Vietnam to join World Concern, helping people with HIV and the hearing impaired in Hanoi.
And even as she learnt on the job, she sought to get more formal training, signing up for SIF’s social work programme that has trained 20 social work lecturers and practitioners over three years.
The training included a 10-day stint in Singapore where participants like Hoàn got to see the development of the profession here.
“I’m very happy with the training opportunities provided by SIF. They have helped me in my work,” she says.
One of the people Hoàn was able to help is Hien.
Hien and her husband were one of the first people living with HIV/Aids (PLWHA) that she approached in Ninh Binh province a few years ago.
At the time, Hoàn recalls, discrimination against PLWHAs was very high and there were no support groups.
“We came and approached PLWHAs and worked with them to build their capacity as well as set up peer groups of PLWHAs throughout the province.
“This lady has now become a leader of one peer group of women living with HIV/Aids in Ninh Binh. Her group has been very active in doing community events to reduce the stigma and discrimination,” she says.
Hien and her husband received a US$150 loan they have since repaid from World Concerns, to raise ducks and chickens as well as to start a small clothing shop at a tourist area near their village.
For Hoàn, it all adds up to deeply rewarding work with people she has a heart for.
“The reason that I am drawn to be a social worker is the love of Jesus Christ. When He speaks about the Kingdom of God, he always demonstrates it in a way people can understand.”