Speeches & Transcripts

Interview with HIV/AIDS Peer Educator Nguyen Thanh Lam

July 1, 2011

Nguyen Thanh Lam Da Lat, Vietnam


Could you please introduce your self and your current job?

My name is Nguyen Thanh Lam, a peer educator in Da Lat city. In general, my key tasks are to provide information and educate drug users and female sex workers so that they can understand the risky behaviours to prevent themselves from HIV infection and transmission. With my facilitation, the injection drug users know how to have safe injection and use clean cylinders. I share with them some leaflets and instruct them how to clean cylinders. I warn them not to share cylinders and needles with others. For female sex workers, we provide them with condoms and instruct them how to use condoms properly to prevent HIV infection and transmission risks.

Could you tell us how you became a peer educator?

During my youthhood, I was elated and dissipated with my friends. However, later when I was awakened , I recognised that the life had been better and better, the people in a modern trend were becoming more “truthful, honest and beautiful”. By that time, I received a training invitation from health staff under the LifeGap programme and I did not understand what peer education meant. However, having met with health staff, thought about my past of elated and dissipated life and being curious, I decided to attend the training. After that training in 2005, we understood the meaningfulness and objectives of peer education. I thought that if my community did not implement this programme, my peers would have disadvantages. We are the persons who know and understand better than anyone else how miserable and hurtful we are. Therefore, I should take the responsibilities and do tasks to make a small contribution to the effort of the whole province.

When doing the job of a peer educator, what have your family or neighbours said or if they are against your activities?

Generally speaking, when I decided to work as a peer educator, I explained the objectives to my family and they are tolerant. However, due to the limited understanding and awareness of local people or neighbours or families of people living with HIV/AIDS, they sometimes discriminated and stigmatised us. After a long period of time, they better understood, regconised the importance (of my job). They advocated for and supported (my job), especially the provincial HIV/AIDS center as well as the epidemic prevention and control team in Da Lat. With regard to the local authorities, at the beginning it was very difficult, but later when they understood the objectives and knew that I did the job with my whole heart, without much income, then they were very much helpful and supportive.

When doing the job of a peer educator, do you have any rememberable memories that you would like to share?

In peer education, due to the unique conditions of the city and the province, we haven’t got any support projects or programmes, so we defined the objectives of supporting our own relatives and friends first, because we live with them and know they are in pitiful circumstances. Among more than 50 trained people, only 12 people were recruited and we worked very actively and effectively during the LifeGap project. However, it was terminated in 2007. In that photo, about 4 – 5 people died and it was me who cleaned their death bodies and arranged the funerals for them with the assistance of health staff. At present, there are still many of them suffering difficulties in their lives, in life something should be lost, but not, while something else needed and not prepared to be lost has been gone. For example, one of my friends, he is now in the critical period, but has not received ARV treatment, and he is now seriously sick in both black and while meaning. His body carries the century disease, and physically, he has one leg longer than the other. He has a bad luck continuously, his house was collapsed, he is survived but all assets have been destroyed. Other depressing damages occurred when his animal stock was destroyed by typhoons and floods. He is now in a critically difficult situation. With our capacities, we cannot do any thing for him except giving him some verbal encouragements and small gifts. Anyway, it is very difficult and we are very worried and sorry. That is a bit painful memory.

When you work with other peer educators and know different stories as you have shared, have you ever feel hopeless and do not want to continue your current job?

We have different reflections, worrisome and thoughts, but we don't think that is the full picture, we have to think how to move forward, encourage our brothers to live to come over, to do whatever beneficial to the society, that is better than a normal person doing nothing. That is our life goal.

What have you done for the society that you are proud of?

From what we can see it is obvious that the HIV/AIDS centers, mass media, culture and information agencies are organising communication campaigns with different forms of panos, billboards and public art performance competitions to improve the public awareness, while we are, the sex workers, injection drug users, responsible for helping improve the awareness and implementing harm reduction interventions among us. We have advocated and distributed clean cylinders, instructed how to clean cylinders and warned them not to share cylinders and injecting objects. With female sex workers, we distributed condoms, instructed them how to use properly and advised them not to have sex without being protected as requested by their clients, they must always use condoms when having sex.

When doing the job, have you had any cases or rememberale memories that you find difficult to approach and challenging that you were discouraged and wanted to give up?

In general when having difficulties, I have to try to handle. While doing my job, I have many in-depth memorable stories, but more specially in recent time at a hot spot of sex trading, I met a sex worker who is deaf and mute, with our limited capacities we could not explain and educate this person. We had to seek the assistance from the school for people with disability and they were willing to support us with interpretation when they know the objectives of our activities. With the interpretation, we told the client how to use condoms, where the condoms can be provided and who distributes. For those people who do not want to use condoms, we advised the client absolutely disagree to have sex

How do you find your activities are meaningful to the community

Peer communication activities in Lam Dong province are very meaningful. We all understand that we have disadvantages and limited awareness/education, therefore there are many miserable lives. We have tried to advocate, educate and approach them step by step, then they sooner and later improve their knowledge and know how to prevent themselves from high risk behaviours and help other brothers access to ARV treatment free of charge provided by the Government.

As a peer educator, do you see any changes to yourself and in your life?

Of course, working as a peer educator, recently I have seen my personal benefits diminishing due to decreased incomes. Second, I have invested myself in this job, but in order to fulfill my wishes and responsibilities I have to accept it and have careful expenditure plan to cover my daily expenses. .

How is about your mental life? Is it different?

Mentally, I feel very comfortable. After working days and meetings with brothers, helping them understand the issues, and then I feel very happy when coming home. When the conditions are not allowed, for example bad weather or no campaign, I cannot approach them, I am very worried about uneducated peers and inaccessible areas if they know how to reduce harms. However, I have certain plans to approach them and conduct peer education.

Do you think you will be engaged in this job for a very long term or just for a certain period of time?

With regard to this question, we all defined at the very beginning that we will try our best to contribute if we still have capacities, energies and there are social needs. However, at the same time, we have trained a younger generation , i.e collaborators who later on will continue our duties. I myself has committed that if my health is good and the conditions are appropriate, I keep trying to complete my duties in coming time.

Thank you very much.