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
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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.