A Journey of Hope: Counseling-Prevention of HIV/AIDS

by Dushiyanthini Kanagasabapathipillai

“If you find it in your heart to care for somebody else, you will have succeeded”- Maya Angelou- American poet, memoirist, actress and civil rights activist

25 million people have died of AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) globally according to a survey carried out recently. The first case of a HIV positive person was reported in Sri Lanka in 1987. There have been 886 HIV positive persons reported by June 2007, and 120 died of AIDS according to the National STD (Sexually Transmitted Diseases) and AIDS Control Programme. Out of which 41% were women. Further out of 886 HIV positive persons, 516 are males and 370 are females. A total of 28 paediatric HIV have been diagnosed in Sri Lanka as end of June 2006. The male to female ratio is 1:4:1.

An estimated 5,000 people were living with HIV in Sri Lanka at the end of 2005 out of 20 million population, and an estimated 140 people died of AIDS related illnesses according to the UNAIDS fact sheet, which was issued on August 10th 2007.

Between 2.8 and 9.8 million people were living with HIV in Asia in 2006, and between 310,000 and 610,000 people became newly infected with the virus according to the UNAIDS fact sheet, which was updated in August 2007. And between 140,000 and 610,000 people died from AIDS related illnesses in 2006.

“In the 25 years since the first case was reported, AIDS has changed the world. It has killed 25 million people, infected 40 million more. It has become the world’s leading cause of death among both men and women aged 15- 59. It has inflicted the single greatest reversal in the history of human development. In other words, it has become the greatest challenge of our generation” said the Former Secretary –General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan in his World AIDS Day message in 2006.

Although Sri Lanka has a low prevalent rate (0.03%), it is a challenge to maintain at this rate. Nearly two decades since the reporting its first HIV infection, Sri Lanka remains one of the few countries in the region with a low level of HIV epidemic. Conditions of higher vulnerability also include conflict, high mobility, of military, internally displaced persons, and separation of spouses related to overseas employment.

“The unequal rights of women to inheritance and property in many parts of the region have been severely aggravated by HIV. Burdened by the care of their spouses, illness and the responsibility of the household, women living with or affected by HIV are often denied their rightful access to property when their spouses die. Blamed, abused and expelled from their marital homes. HIV positive women often denied access to their children as well.

The feminization of the epidemic in the Asia Pacific region and the related challenges are truly daunting. About 30% of the new infections in the region are among women. With little or no control over their sexual lives and burdened by abuse, exploitation and violence in the region are extremely vulnerable to HIV as borne by the facts. In Papua New Guinea 60% of the new infections are among women, while in Thailand “housewives” accounted for 40% of the new cases. In Nepal 100% of the new infections are among women” said Caitlin Wiesen, Regional HIV/AIDS Team Leader, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), regional Centre in Colombo.

Waves of Change; Waves of Hope, was this year’s theme for the 8th ICAAP (International Congress on AIDS in Asia and the Pacific) which just concluded in Colombo. 2,000 delegates from 4o countries have participated in the international conference, which was held from August 19-23rd 2007. They shared experiences to fight the epidemic with confidence and hope

Journey for Healthy Life was started in 1999 with five members, which has spread its wings to 12 members. It has a male and a female counselors. The Director of Journey for Healthy Life Nakkeeran Gunarajah in an exclusive interview with Kuviyam regarding the HIV/AIDS situation in the Jaffna Peninsula. [Nakkeeran Gunarajah –>]

Q: What type of services do you provide?

A: We help the people to get volunteer HIV tests. And also provide counseling if they are found positive. We give counseling for their family members, so that they do not ill treat the fellow family members, who are HIV positive. There is no compassion towards the HIV positive, and we try to educate the community on this issue as well. And also we create awareness in the society such as what is HIV, how it spreads, preventive measures and treatment. The Journey for Healthy Life also provides attendants service at home and hospital.

We managed to have 20 HIV/AIDS related seminars in 15 District Secretariat divisions in Jaffna in conjunction with the World AIDS day in 2006. HIV positive persons have participated in the seminars.

Q: How do you see the current HIV/AIDS situation in Jaffna?

A: There were 42 HIV positives up to March 2006. There was a 31/2 year-old baby girl was among them. And five mothers were found HIV positive. We urge the people to go for HIV test, but it’s not that easy due to the social set up in the society.

Q: How do you see the situation of Stigma and discrimination?

A: The loved ones of HIV positive people are discriminated at their work place as well as at home. For example:

*Valli, who got infected to HIV and later died of AIDS. Her son *Kugan who worked in a bakery in Jaffna was discriminated by his employer. The employer used to ask *Kugan to wash the utensils with warm water, clean the bakery premises with water after his mother visited the bakery.

Valli’s another son *Kumar who shared a room with his friend *Senthil in the town. Whenever Kumar visited his mother at home and cam back to the room, removed his shirt and put it on hanger. *Senthil used to remove his shirts which were hanging next to *Kumar’s shirt and put them in a separate place.

When *Valli died of AIDS, her extended family members refused to touch her body to give a bath before cremating. It’s a funeral rites of the Hindus to bathe the dead body before cremating it I a cemetery. But at late *Valli’s home her relatives refrained from touching her dead body.

Similar situations have been faced by other families which have HIV positive persons in the families. Although there had been numerous awareness activities created by various organizations, there is still stigma attached to the society. We are still trying very hard to remove the stigma from the society.

Q: What are the challenges faced by your organisation?

A: We faced if we want to talk about prevention, we have to talk about sex in public. But in Jaffna, the community is very conservative. The community does not want us to talk about sex in public. It’s a big challenge for us. On the other hand people are clueless, if we don’t explain to the people in detail, how the HIV can get infected.

There is no networking system available for us at the moment. We hardly have any connections with the other organization working with PLWHAs (People Living With HIV/AIDS) on the rest of the country. The current political situation also prevents us from expanding our network locally and globally. The 8th ICAAP (International Congress on AIDS in Asia and the Pacific) was a great opportunity for us to make new connections.

We were funded by the Christian Aid till April 2007. We do not have any donors at present. We had to reduce the number of staff to five due to financial constraints.

Q: What will be your future activities?

A: Journey for Healthy Life has already planned to implement a four step project for five years. The project is expected to begin in 2008 and end in 2013.

1. Creating awareness
2. Care and support to HIV positive persons
3. Income generating and livelihood programs for identified persons who are at risk
4. Service availability

Hope springs from the sharing of knowledge. Let us focus on preventing HIV/AIDS around the world.

(* Name of a HIV positive and her sons have been changed to maintain confidentiality)

[HumanityAshore.org]

Email: dushi.pillai@gmail.com

Day in the life of a garland maker ~ on Deepavali

by Dushiyanthini Kanagasabapathipillai

Deepavali- Festival of Lights was celebrated by Hindus around the world on November 8th 2007. People were dressed in new clothes, thronged the temples and visited relatives and friends. Special poojas were performed at the temples.

According to the Legends that, Lord Vishnu defeated the demon King Narakasuran, and killed him on this day. Annually this day is celebrated in late October or early November on the new moon. The day is celebrated with sweets and savouries, fire crackers, greetings and lights. Hindus celebrated Deepavali as the day of triumph over darkness. It symbolizes a victory of good over evil. Just married couples celebrated “Thalai Theepavali” (first Deepavali celebrated together after marriage) with special gifts from their relatives.

Twenty three year-old Karuppaiah Sivanathan was very busy making flower garland at his tiny shop adjoining the Naattukottai Nagaraththaar New Kathiresan temple in Bambalapitty. He hardly had anytime time to talk to his regular customers, except wishing each of them “Happy Deepavali”. He is called “Siva” by his colleagues and customers.

Karuppaiah Sivanathan began to make garlands ten years ago. He learnt the art of making garlands by looking at his neighbours. “I enjoy making garlands for numerous occasions. It gives me eternal satisfaction. I need to work hard daily to earn more money to expand my shop” said Karuppaiah Sivanathan.

He earns Rs.3,000/= as an average daily income. “It’s not enough to take care of my family, and fulfill their needs. I am not yet married, I need much more money when I tie a knot, and start my own family. I tie flowers and make garlands now. And I want to tie a knot to a woman, who is loving and caring” said blushing Karuppaiah Sivanathan

The importance of temple worship has been stressed by the saints

Moolasthanam (main shrine) of Naattukottai Nagaraththaar New Kathiresan temple in Bambalapitty

Festive atmosphere was felt by all

Lamps were lit to symbolize the victory

Karuppaiah Sivanathan is with full of ambitions for his future

Garland making is an art, says Karuppaiah Sivanathan

Competition is very high among the colleagues

He uses a small metal wire to fix lime and green chillies to be hanged on vehicles and business installations to rid of the evil spirits

His customers are impressed by his work

Devotees spent long hours in the temples to participate in special poojas

He wants to get married soon

Flowers are bought in bulf from Chilaw and Matale

As the monsoon has begun in certain parts of the Island, flowers are in huge demand

Fragrance of the flowers is smelt everywhere

Festivals are eagerly anticipated and celebrated with much enthusiasm

[HumanityAshore.org]

Email: dushi.pillai@gmail.com

Navarathri at Sri Lanka College of Journalism

by Dushiyanthini Kanagasabapathipillai

“Navarathri” literally translates nine nights. These nine nights are devoted to Goddesses. The first three nights are devoted to Goddess Durga symbolizes power and triumph. The next three nights are devoted to Goddess Lakshmi symbolizes amplitude and wealth, and the last three nights are devoted to Goddess Saraswathy-knowledge and wisdom.

The festival began on October 11th 2007 and ended on October 20th 2007. Hindus decorated their houses and temples for the festival. Cultural events were held during the ” Navarathri”.

Sri Lanka College of Journalism, Sri Lanka Press Institute and Sri Lanka Press Complaints Commission celebrated ” Navarathri” on October 19th 2007 at the premises of the Sri Lanka College of Journalism.

“Kolam” tradidionally drawn design by the students of Sri Lanka Press Institute and Sri Lanka College of Journalism

A female student welcomes and places a “Pottu”-traditional dot on the forehead of Mrs. Kamalini Selvarajan

“Niraikudam” – full pot is placed to welcome the invitees. It’s a symbol of prosperity. “Niraikudam” is gesture of greeting.”Niraikudam”- a pot is filled with water, a coconut is kept on its mouth, five or seven mango leaves are arranged in circular form. The pot is kept on a bed of paddy or rice placed on a banana leaf.

“Thoranam”- tender coconut leaves are plaited together, and mango leaves are attached to the rope

Sri Skanthan Kurukkal from Chunnaakam performing pooja

Sakalakalavallimaalai” being sung by the students

Student of Sri Lanka College of Journalism Dinesh, Director of Sri Lanka College of Journalism Arjuna Ranawana and Journalist of Shakthi TV Aruna Sellathurai attending pooja

The whole building was decorated and in festive atmosphere

All were blessed by the priest

People from all ethnicities attended the festival

Savouries served at the festival

Rajitha wishes her fellow student

Flower garlands add beauty to the hair

“Navarathri” is rich in meaning

Students and lecturers enjoyed the festival

In Pictures: Colombo Department Store Unveils Latest Collections

by Dushiyanthini Kanagasabapathipillai

ODEL, Sri Lanka’s only department store has unveiled its latest collection for the season.

A catwalk came alive on August 12 th 2007, unveiling wide range of formal and causal wear. ODEL’s latest collection of clothes was worn by eight models with appropriate accessories.

In 2007, ODEL successfully launched its Sari Bar. It attracts clients to a wide range of classic collection, as saree being a traditional attire in Sri Lanka. The shelves of Sari Bar are filled with unique and trendiest designs to choose.

Stunning new fashions, trendy styles and surprises….

Range of colours were captured in clothing

Gorgeous saree from Sari Bar

Cotton and silk mixed formal wear for men

Exquisite Asian creation from Sari Bar

Erosha displays casual wear

Formal wear displayed by Saliya Perera

Innovative creativity reflected in clothes

Spectators were drawn to the latest collection

Splendid wear for men

Geraldine De Rosairo displayed charming casual wear

Catwalk for another casual wear

Lustrous saree was displayed by Shermali Perera

Casual wear in blue and white

Number of spectators captured the moments on their mobile phones

Kumudhu Wimalasuriya displayed a beautiful outfit

Pretty in Pink

White and stripe for men

Pink and White for women

Casual wear was worn by Sajith Hurikaduwa

Wrapped in Gold dust saree

Red and black casual wear

Cute casual wear was worn by Maria

Tiny Tot at the show

Watching while shopping

Trendy casual wear displayed by Piorina Fernando

Elegant black and blue embroidered saree

Sleeveless for the season

Sleeveless for the season

Sleeveless for the season

Fashion lovers in the city gathered to witness the Sunday splash

Sleeveless for the season

Simple summer wear

Simple summer wear

Simple summer wear

Collection of casual dresses

Collection of casual dresses

Black and White for men

Casual short dress

Simple summer wear

Collection of casual dresses

Collection of casual dresses

A wide collection of casual wear

A wide collection of casual wear

A wide collection of casual wear

A wide collection of casual wear

Spring and summer wear

Spring and summer wear

Spring and summer wear

Spring and summer wear

Music added rhythm to the show

[HumanityAshore.org]

Email: dushi.pillai@gmail.com

“Waves of Change; Waves of Hope” – Asia Pacific Conference on HIV/AIDs set to begin in Sri Lanka

by Dushiyanthini Kanagasabapathipillai

“A free bird leaps
On the back of the wind
And floats downstream
Till the current end
And dips her wing
In the orange sun rays
And dares to claim the sky” –
Maya Angelou– American Poet, memoirist, actress and civil rights activist

The 8th ICAAP (International Congress on AIDS in Asia and Pacific) will be held in Sri Lanka from August 19t to 23 rd 2007. There will be 2,000 delegates from 40 countries participating in the international conference. “Waves of Change; Waves of Hope” is this year’s theme. There are many events organized to coincide with the main conference.

A media briefing about the upcoming 8th ICAAP was held in Colombo on Thursday August 16th, announcing details of the 5 day conference.

As per the UNAIDS fact sheet of August 10 th 2007 released at the briefing, an estimated 5,000 people are living with HIV in Sri Lanka at the end of 2005, and an estimated 140 people died of AIDS related illnesses. Nearly two decades since reporting of its first HIV infection, Sri Lanka remains one of the few countries in the region with low level HIV epidemic. Reported cases of HIV reached a cumulative total of 886 people by June 2007 according to the National STD and AIDS Control Programme, of which 41% were women. A total of 26 paediatric HIV have been diagnosed in Sri Lanka as of end of 2006.

The first ever Asia Pacific Court of Women on HIV, Inheritance and Property Rights: From Dispossession to Livelihoods, Security and Safe Spaces will be held at the BMICH (Bandaranaike Memorial International Conference Hall) on August 18 th 2007 as a pre-congress activity. The “Regional Court of Women” is organized by UNDP Regional HIV and Development Programme, in partnership with Asian Women’s Human Rights Council (AWHRC), UNAIDS and UNIFEM

It is an attempt to give visibility to the lives and voices of those who are increasingly being pushed to the margins of our societies and polity, because they are identified as positive and poor. There will be 25 women living with HIV from 11 countries- Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Iran, Pakistan, Malaysia, Cambodia , Vietnam, Thailand, South Africa and Papua New Guinea share their stories of struggle. The Eminent Jury will include Miloon Kothari, UN Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing, Marina Mahathir ( Malaysia), Justice Shiranee Tilakawardade (Sri Lanka), Justice Kalyan Shresstha (Nepal), Cherie Honkala (United States), Lawrence Liang (India) and Farida Akhter (Bangladesh). In addition to the hearings, five experts of repute will present their contextual analyses of the diverse aspects of the issue. These “expert witnesses” will be Vicky Corpuz- Tebtebba Foundation in the Philippines, Sunila Abeysekera-INFORM in Sri Lanka, Anand Grover-Lawyers Collective in India, Elizabeth Reid-Sociologist in Australia, and Assefa Yirga Gebregziabher an Ethiopian Lawyer.

The testimonies will be presented in four sessions on:

1. Dispossession and destruction: Poverty, Violence and HIV

2. Dispossession and destruction: Culture, Marginalisation and HIV

3. Human Rights and Inhuman Wrongs: Evaluating State Responses, HIV, Property and Inheritance Rights

4. Reclaiming Survival and Security: Celebrating Voices of Resistance and Hope

“Court will bring to public focus challenges faced by women in context of HIV and AIDS. HIV deepens the prevalent gender inequalities driving the epidemic in the region. When women are denied their rights to inheritance and property, they are robbed of the social and economic empowerment needed to help prevent HIV infection, and cope with its impact on families and communities” said Caitlin Wiesen, Regional HIV/AIDS Team Leader, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Regional Center in Colombo at the media briefing.

[Caitlin Wiesen]

She further said:

“The unequal rights of women to inheritance and property in many parts of the region have been severely aggravated by HIV. Burdened by the care of their spouses, illnesses and the responsibility of the household, women living with or affected by HIV are often denied their rightful access to property when their spouses die. Blamed, abused and expelled from their marital homes. HIV positive women are often denied access to their children as well.

The feminization of the epidemic in the Asia Pacific region and the related challenges are truly daunting. About 30% of the new infections in the region are among women. With little or no control over their sexual lives and burdened by abuse, exploitation and violence women in the region are extremely vulnerable to HIV as borne by the facts. In Papua New Guinea 60% of the new infections are among women, while in Thailand “housewives” accounted for 40% of the new cases. In Nepal 100% of the new infections are among women.

A recent socio-economic impact study in India by UNDP and the National Council for Applied Economic Research (NCAER) show that almost 80% of the AIDS widows were expelled from their marital home. Women living with HIV who own lands subject to violence 4-7 times in life. Dispossessed of land and property, women are left to inherit HIV, loss of family, shame and poverty. Women should be empowered to claim their rights to inherit properties and to disinherit vulnerabilities to HIV”.

[Madhu Bhushan]

Also attending at the media briefing, Madhu Bhushan, Co-ordinator of Asian Women’s Human Rights Council (AWHRC) in India stated:

“The Courts are part of a global movement that seeks to redefine rights and other notions of justice from the lives and life visions of women particularly from the global South. More than thirty Courts of Women have been held in different regions in the world such as Asia, Arab States, Africa Central America and Latin America.

Violence against women living with HIV is escalating. The institution of prostitution has been in the history, but now it is becoming an industry”.

Through exploring the feminist methodology of weaving together the personal with the political, women’s subjective testimonies are woven together with objective realities presented by expert witnesses. The Courts also offer varies other ways to know through weaving together the logical with the lyrical by interspersing these testimonies and analyses with video testimonies, artistic images and poetry.

There is considerable evidence that Sri Lanka is vulnerable to the development of the concentrated HIV epidemics. Female sex workers are found in most of the major towns and cities, and there are networks of Men who have Sex with Men with multiple partners including paying clients according to the recent fact sheet by the UNAIDS.

Although Sri Lanka has a low prevalent rate, which is less than 1%, the challenge is to keep the rate low. When people get displaced from their homes, the usual system of justice does not exist.

Some courageous women who are living with HIV have come forwarded to share their pain at the Regional Courts of Women. They have faced challenges in their lives, and they need to be treated with dignity, and the way they are being treated in the community needs to change. Their silence needs to be broken; and their voices should be heard!

The 9 th ICAAP (International Congress on AIDS in Asia and Pacific) will be held in Indonesia in 2009.

Email: dushi.pillai@gmail.com