|Sunday Empowerment Group changes lives for people living with HIV|
24 August 2010 - In a welcoming, airy compound in Yangon’s 9-mile area, the Sunday Empowerment Group offers a referral and support programme for people living with HIV. The group meets on Sunday, hence the name, and is made up of HIV patients, some of whom work as volunteers and give health talks to members.
The group has been funded by the Three Diseases Fund since 2007 and is part of Association Francois-Xavier Bagnoud (FXB), an international NGO that provides support for children affected by HIV/AIDS.
Ya Min (not her real name) was twelve when her mother died of AIDS. Distant relatives came to collect her but she wished to stay with her mother’s friends. She turned to the Sunday Empowerment Group, as her and her mother were long-term members. Organisers and relatives deliberated and the support group helped the decision by voting. Ya Min was able to join her new family, who are HIV positive.
She hugs her seven-year-old adoptive brother. “I am HIV negative, but I’ve experienced the discrimination that comes with living with HIV. I want to help dissolve that and teach young people to avoid HIV.” Her adoptive parents encouraged her to finish school, and today she is also a peer volunteer with the Sunday Empowerment Group.
U Chit Ko Ko is the group facilitator. He was diagnosed HIV positive in 2003 and joined the then twelve member group. “I was terrified and was sure I would die. Being part of the group helped me enormously.” When he went into hospital, friends from the Sunday Empowerment Group stood by him and he decided to devote his life to supporting others.
He disclosed his status at a World Aids Day event in Pyapon in front of 700 people, encouraging the formation of the Pyapon the Sunday Empowerment Group. Later, groups opened in Bogalay, Dedaye and Kyailat. Today, the FXB Sunday Empowerment Groups have more than 2000 members around Myanmar.
“I can motivate people - they see I am healthy and unafraid,” says U Chit Ko Ko. “There are people living with HIV everywhere. When people first come to us, many dare not admit they have HIV. Some have no hope and cover their faces with a towel. But then they listen. The main thing is to try to protect the next generation from HIV.”
The Sunday Empowerment Group also arranges special events such as the World Aids Orphans Day, which took place in Shwe Pyi Thar township in May. Over 800 adults and 350 children enjoyed a morning of health education, story sharing, performance and song. “People came from as far as Taunggyi,” says U Chit Ko Ko, “We are very grateful to have permission and funding for these important gatherings.”