Phan Van Kien
We met Phan Van Kien, 35, when his “Summer for Good Kids” program had just finished. This was the event on June 1, the International Day for Children for children who were living with HIV or were affected by HIV. Kien initiated the event and went to many organizations to ask for funding.
“I only want to give them a chance to be loved and equally treated like normal children,” Kien said.
For many people, catching HIV means losing their lives but it is different for Kien, who is chairman of Song Lam Xan Service Cooperative in Vinh City, Nghe An province.
The moment Kien knew about his disease, he determined to be back to normal life and to live in a responsible manner.
At the age of 17, Kien became a drug addict. When his family detected the painful truth about their son, Kien completely depended on drugs. Kien quitted school. His father tried to lock him in his room to separate him from his corrupted friends but Kien escaped to seek drugs.
“When I was not affected by drugs, I thought I could be detoxified but when I had a fit, my determination was broken. I only desired to have drugs…” Kien recalled.
Kien with HIV-carrying children.
Kien’s father sent him to a mountain area for rehabilitation but Kien still brought drugs with him. He then sneaked out and came back to Vinh to group up with his spoiled friends.
From smoking and inhaling drugs, Kien turned to shooting heroin. He went to rehabilitation centers and returned home many times.
“I experienced 6-7 rehabilitation periods at home and rehabilitation centers but after each period, I fell deeper in drugs. To have money to buy drugs, I did every bad thing, from being a guard for illegal gamblers to selling drugs, except for being a robber. At that time, there was only one thing in my head: how to have drugs to satisfy my addiction.”
“Sometimes, when I was not affected by drugs, I regretted for hurting my parent. But the way home is dim if you are addicted to drugs,” Kien said.
Kien returned to life when he had nothing to lose and had no hope: He was affected HIV. As a drug addict, Kien saw himself as “waste”. But HIV was a deathblow on him. Ten years living with drugs, nobody believed that Kien could give up drugs but he could.
He entered a rehabilitation center in Nghe An for detoxification. “Whenever I lusted for drugs, I felt like thousands of ants creeping on my bones and I could not stand that feeling. I nearly gave up for some times. But I was lucky to have my family and teachers besides at that difficult time.”
Returning from the rehabilitation center, Kien stayed at home for one year to keep away from his addicted friends and to think about his future. He asked his father’s help to open a motorbike and bicycle mending and washing shop right at his home. The shop of Kien “HIV” attracted a lot of customers. Some came to the shop for satisfying their curiosity while others wanted to support a drug addict on his way back to life.
Why drug addicts cannot live and work like others? Kien thought and he wanted to group up people of the same circumstance with him to help each other.
In October 2008, the Song Lam Xanh (Blue Lam River) group, led by Kien, was set up, with nearly 30 members who are HIV carriers. Kien said he had not slept several nights to find a name for his group.
The Lam River in his hometown has brought alluvial to the fields along the river and now it would bring the hope and a new life for HIV carriers.
The group was founded to call for and protect the legal interests and rights for HIV carriers and those who are affected by HIV/AIDS and to seek assistance from individuals and organizations for these people.
Kien at a general store of Song Lam Xanh cooperative.
In 2010, the group became the Song Lam Xanh Cooperative, the first business model of HIV carriers in Nghe An. The cooperative supplied rice and bottled water to local companies and organizations and owned a general store in Vinh city. At present, the cooperation has a branch in the central province of Ha Tinh. Its members have increased from nearly 30 to 50.
Ms. G, a member of Song Lam Xanh, said: “When I caught HIV, I thought that my life reached the end. When my husband died, I did not want to live. At that time, Kien told my about his idea. This was a lifebuoy for me. In the last four years, thanks to operations at the cooperative, I have seen the light. My life has been more meaningful and useful. Carrying HIV is not the end of life.”
Song Lam Xanh has not only offered jobs and income for HIV carriers but also been a ‘matchmaker’ for five HIV-carrying couples. One more marriage is about to be held.
“Lighting up a fire
To warm up the winter
In this immense life
We need your heart.”
The verses are hung in Song Lam Xanh’s office, as the cooperative’s guideline of operation. A fire has been lightened and dead-end fates have been revived. Na Son