HCM CITY Eleven-year-old Nguyen Ngoc Tuan and his friends at the Mai Hoa Centre in Cu Chi District were happy and excited to celebrate the Mid-Autumn Festival last week with "normal" children.
Tuan and other children of the centre, who are infected with the HIV virus, were able to celebrate the festival with their peers in the district s An Nhon Dong Primary School as part of efforts to bridge the distance created by their affliction.
Tuan said he and his friends wished they could do this (mingle with normal children) always.
The function was organised by the HCM City AIDS Prevention Committee in co-operation with the Cu Chi District s People s Committee.
Dr Tran Thi Doan Trang, a member of the committee, hoped that this would be a step towards helping children of the centre integrate into mainstream society and reduce their sense of isolation.
Nguyen Van Chan, principal of the An Nhon Dong Primary School, said that the school also has held many entertainment programmes and contests for the centre s children and the school s students to enjoy together.
However, while the parents of students at the An Nhon Dong school agreed with such activities, they have not accepted that children of the centre are allowed to study alongside their own children.
They said that while they sympathised with the plight of the afflicted children, they were afraid of the safety of their children because the latter were too small to protect themselves from being infected with the dreaded virus.
Chan said not many parents are like the mother of Nguyen Duy Khang, a fifth grade student of the school. She has accepted that her son studies along with the centre s children, and has encouraged him not to be prejudiced against them.
She has also taught her son about HIV and ways to prevent being infected by the virus.
Khang said that if he and the centre s children knew how to prevent the infection from spreading, there was nothing to be afraid of, adding that he had no problems learning with the children from the centre.
Chan said that the school has strengthened efforts to educate children and parents about the virus to enable a more realistic understanding that would address their fears.
Moreover, the school planned to exempt the centre s children from learning gymnastics and other physical activities if they are accepted to study there in order to reduce the risk of injury and bleeding.
Last month, the committee co-operated with the district s leaders to invite some doctors to talk to students and parents about the HIV virus and convince them to accept the centre s children learning alongside their own, as well as create more opportunities for them to integrate better into society.
Nguyen Thi Bao, a nun at the centre, the children currently could not go to any regular school and had to be taught at the centre itself.
The An Nhon Dong school has sent its teachers to the centre to teach the children, she added.
At the centre, the children cannot experience the same atmosphere of learning that they can in regular classrooms, Bao said.
So they are always eager to learn with normal children, she said.
Currently, the centre cares for 20 children and 28 adults who are HIV positive.
No one outside the centre agrees to work there because they are afraid of getting infected, so the centre s capacity to receive HIV was limited, she said. VNS